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Girls who play video games are three times more likely to pursue STEM careers than girls who don’t

With only half as many girls as boys are graduating with a STEM degree in the EU, although with huge variations across Member States, it feels particularly important to assess what specifically can be done in terms of girls participation in the field of physical science, technology, engineering and math (pSTEM). A University of Surrey research by Dr Anesa Hosein states that, girls (13-14 years old) who played over nine hours of video games a week were 3.3 times more likely to study pSTEM than those who do not play video games. This was the case even after accounting for their socio-economic background, their ethnicity, past performance and how good at their chosen subject they felt they were.

Today, on Girls in ICT day, which encourages girls and young women to pursue STEM education, we speak with University of Surrey’s Dr Anesa Hosein on her research and delve into what it will take to change gender norms, mindsets and expose girls to relevant role models.

Video Games Europe: Let’s begin with your research. Can you elaborate on your research?

Dr Anesa Hosein (AH):  My research interest is on longitudinal studies based on life course theory. I investigate how events in the early life of a person can affect what happens to them in later life. In this research, I investigated whether playing video games when a young person was a teenager affected the type of degree they eventually selected. Using the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England (LSYPE) survey, I found that for girls, in particular, if they were heavy game players (i.e. played more than 9 hours/week), they were three times more likely to go on to do a Physical Science, Technology, Engineering or Maths (PSTEM) degree than those girls who were non-game players when comparing against the other degree options.

Video Games Europe: Could the recognition of girls who play video games help teachers encourage them into pursuing STEM careers?

AH: Currently, there is a low uptake of girls pursuing STEM careers, particularly those from a lower socio-economic background. Without women and girls, we miss out on the innovations and fresh perspectives that people from different backgrounds can bring to the science and engineering field that can not only help solve global societal challenges but create innovations that meet their needs and represent them.

Playing video games teaches and enhances girls problem-solving, spatial reasoning, creativity, strategy and digital skills, which are all important skills needed for STEM subjects. If teachers can identify girls who like to play video games, then teachers can support and encourage girls to explore and identify whether a STEM career is appropriate for them.

However, this approach needs to be cautious and balanced as there maybe girls who are interested in STEM but do not play video games.

Video Games Europe: Is there a notion that girls are less likely to say they are video game players? And why is that so?

AH: Society perpetuates the stereotype of who video gameplayers are. In the movies and on tv, PSTEM scientists are represented as male geeks who are academically brilliant and engage in non-physical hobbies such as video games. Further, video games are often branded as “boy toys” or “gadgets for men”. Hence, girls may be less willing to align themselves to this video gaming stereotype as they do not see themselves being represented. 

Video Games Europe: You may have seen, the European Skills Agenda asks for an explicit focus to attract girls for STEM careers “by encouraging a cross-disciplinary and innovative teaching and learning approach in schools”. Would the use of video games in classrooms help girls pursue STEM careers?

AH: I believe the use of video games within classrooms can open up to children a different way of constructing and exploring their learning which can be beneficial in investigating the world through a more holistic approach. Using video games in the classroom, if used appropriately, can break down video gaming stereotypes in the classrooms. It also offers children the opportunity to explore and enhance their digital, creative and problem-solving skills which may allow girls to consider pursuing a STEM career or an interdisciplinary career such as digital visual effects.

Video Games Europe: Do you think projects like “Games in Schools” from European Schoolnet and Video Games Europe, which are mainly directed at upskilling teachers, have a role to play?

AH:  There is a tricky balance between teachers identifying girls who are video game players and stereotyping girls because they are video game players. However, teachers often provide inspiration and can be role models for children in the classroom. The upskilling of teachers to use games in the classroom, particularly, female teachers can possibly allow girls who play video games as feeling represented and being seen which may provide the connection needed to allow teachers to discuss future careers (including STEM) with these girls.

Video Games Europe: You have spoken about the role teachers can play in identifying girls who play video games. What are some of your recommendations to policymakers who are hoping to increase girls in STEM careers?

AH: One of the challenges, we have in getting girls into STEM, is the leaky pipeline. At each stage of a girl’s education, they are more likely to drop STEM subjects than boys, even though their performance is similar to boys. This suggests that girls need more mentoring and encouragement to pursue STEM subjects, both from parents and teachers. Further, the systemic structures may also need to change to show girls that the STEM career is a place for them by providing them with appropriate female role models. However, one challenge is to identify those girls who are more likely to pursue STEM careers and to encourage them. My research suggests that one of the target groups is girls who play video games. This, therefore, does not mean we also neglect those girls who do not play video games from pursuing a STEM career.

Video Games Europe: Lastly, how and why did your research come to be? Why has this topic been of interest to you?

AH: This research came about because I have always been concerned about getting more girls into STEM careers and thinking about what interventions early in life may be helpful in getting girls to consider STEM pathways. I started to reflect on why I did a Physics degree. I remembered playing a fair amount of video games when I was a teenager and wondered whether this had an effect. When I looked up the research on this area, I realise this research was missing; many researchers conjectured this may be the case, but there was a lack of evidence. As I had access to longitudinal data, I thought this was a perfect opportunity to look into this.


About Dr Anesa Hosein: 

Anesa Hosein is the Interim Co-director of the Surrey Institute of Education at the University of Surrey. Her research centres on investigating the journeys and pathways of young people and academics in higher education. She is particularly interested in those people who may be marginalised because of their intersectional identities. Anesa, herself, has had a meandering pathway, starting with a BSc degree in Physics, a MPhil in Manufacturing and Industrial Engineering and finally a PhD in Educational Technology whilst moving from the Caribbean to the UK. She loves exploring new approaches and technologies for learning and teaching, and currently spends her spare time playing video games with her 5 year old son.


About Games in Schools: Video Games Europe and European Schoolnet, the network of 34 Ministries of Education across Europe, are collaborating on the Games in Schools project designed to train teachers and educators across Europe on how to use commercial video games in the classroom to enhance the traditional teaching environment. 

The project is composed of two elements:

  • a 6-week online course directed to teachers on the benefits of using video games in the classroom and how to use video games in the teaching process. More than 4,200 teachers across Europe took part in the 2019 edition of the 6-week Massive Online Open Course (MOOC).
  • handbook for teachers (new edition released September 2020) that aims to guide successful learning outcomes. It is in the process of being translated in several languages. It comprises peer-reviewed lesson plans submitted by teachers during the MOOC.

Dr Anesa Hosein

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