Innovatory educational models for women returners in science, engineering and technology professions

Herman, Clem; Hodgson, Barbara; Kirkup, Gill and Whitelegg, Elizabeth (2011). Innovatory educational models for women returners in science, engineering and technology professions. In: Jackson, Sue; Malcolm, Irene and Thomas, Kate eds. Gendered Choices: Learning Work Identities in Lifelong Learning. Lifelong Learning Book Series (15). London, U.K. and New York, NY, U.S.: Springer, pp. 53–68.



Women returning to work after a break have been the target of programmes and initiatives within the adult and higher education sectors for many years: they have also been the focus of government concern at times of skills shortages. Often drawing on feminist principles and pedagogies, such initiatives have generally aimed to empower women and raise their awareness of gender issues at the same time as offering skills and training in preparation for employment (Coats, 1996; Ellen & Herman, 2005, Phipps 2008). The initiative discussed in this chapter has its roots in these traditions, but by using an online environment has been able to offer a new programme to a wider and more diversely distributed target group, as well as focussing on the needs of a specific group: women already qualified in Science, Engineering or Technology (SET) subject areas.

The chapter begins by outlining the continuing problem of under-representation of women and girls in SET including the specific needs of women in these sectors. We then discuss the background to, and rationale for, a recent programme of support measures developed by the UK government, one of which is an innovative online course which was developed by an established network of educators with a commitment to gender issues. The course, aimed at women SET graduates who want to return to work in this employment sector after a career break, is described and its impact discussed. We, the authors of this paper, are all members of the team responsible for creation and delivery of this course. We have also been involved (along with an external independent team) in evaluating how well the course has achieved its objectives. In this context we are action researchers; the research data continue to be collected on the course, and changes to the course are made iteratively in response to this research and to other aspects of the environment. We end this chapter by generalising from our experience to make some recommendations for taking forward this kind of innovatory educational model for women returners in other areas. The recommendations are relevant within a global context, but this chapter is mainly concerned with UK employment priorities, and the models discussed were developed to meet these.

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