STEM career aspirations during primary schooling: What's it all about?

What's STEM anyway?

  • Science
  • Technology
  • Engineering
  • Mathematics

Why is STEM a problem?

Our project is focused on the STEM problem as a relatively new and socially relevant research area. The acronym STEM was formulated by the American National Science Foundation to demarcate the general trend of students’ diminished interest for careers in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and related fields. In Croatia, the acronym would encompass the fields of science, mathematics, technology, engineering, nature and biomedicine.

There are various perspectives from which the problem can be considered, to name just a few – economic consequences, scientific and technological development, the effectiveness of public policy efforts to alleviate the problem, the influence of stereotyping and gender, psychological factors underpinning vocational choices, the relevance of teaching in the development of STEM interests, and so on. Most of what we know about the problem so far has come from data collected in the USA, and only more recently in Europe.

What does our project bring to the table?

The current project is based on the theoretical and empirical expectation that a shift of focus towards younger students and earlier educational periods is needed to understand the STEM problem. The central point of the study is the development of students’ self-competence beliefs, their relation with school achievement, and the effect of self-competence beliefs on vocational interests and choices in STEM area.

Existing studies were primarily focused on the progression of students through age-related educational choices and career stages, while the changes within one developmental level, such as primary school, are less clear. Determining the structure, mapping the changes and revealing causal relations within one early developmental level would present a step forward in the understanding of the STEM problem.

Our project thus includes a longitudinal-sequential design carried out over three years in an early educational period (with students aged 10 to 15). It will involve three cohorts, tested at three different points in their primary school education, as well as an experimental intervention aimed at bringing STEM careers closer to students in half of the schools.

What are the main questions we address?
  • How are students’ general and specific STEM career aspirations formed, and how do they change over time?

  • How are students’ academic achievement and self-competence beliefs related to their general and specific STEM career aspirations? How does this pattern of relations change during the course of primary schooling?

  • How are students’ general and specific STEM career aspirations influenced by characteristics of their families and their gender?