STEM learning opportunities and career aspirations: The interactive effect of students’ self-concept and perceptions of STEM professionals

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Abstract

Background: Students’ positive perceptions of scientists or engineers have been reported to be positively related to their science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) career aspirations. However, other research indicates that positive perceptions of experts in these fields might not necessarily lead to students’ pursuit of STEM careers. Self-concept, defined as one’s perceived abilities in specific academic domains, likely plays a moderating role in the relationship between perceptions and career aspirations according to the motivational theory of role modelling. Moreover, students’ perceptions of STEM professionals might be sourced from STEM-related media and school experiences. Therefore, through running a moderated mediation model, this study examined whether and how the influences of media consumption and school STEM learning opportunities on career aspirations would be mediated by perceptions of STEM professionals, and whether the mediation effect would be conditional on students’ self-concept. 

Methods: Data were collected through an online survey of 608 primary and secondary school students from Hong Kong, and were analysed using structural equation modelling. 

Results: Results revealed that the students’ positive perceptions of STEM professionals were positively associated with their career aspirations, and mediated the links from media consumption and school opportunities to career aspirations. In addition, this mediated pathway depended on STEM self-concept, such that perceptions of STEM professionals were only linked with STEM career aspirations for adolescents with average or high levels of self-concept. 

Conclusions: The findings of this study suggest the need to pay attention to the STEM perceptions and self-concept interaction while designing and implementing learning activities to connect a diversity of students with STEM careers. It is not only important to foster students’ self-concept, but also to enrich their knowledge of diverse occupations, so as to help diversify their perceptions that being professionals in these fields is desirable and attainable, and to eventually inspire more student engagement and participation in STEM. Copyright © 2024 The Author(s).

Original languageEnglish
Article number1
JournalInternational Journal of STEM Education
Volume11
Early online dateJan 2024
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2024

Citation

Chen, Y., So, W. W. M., Zhu, J., & Chiu, S. W. K. (2024). STEM learning opportunities and career aspirations: The interactive effect of students’ self-concept and perceptions of STEM professionals. International Journal of STEM Education, 11, Article 1. https://doi.org/10.1186/s40594-024-00466-7

Keywords

  • Media consumption
  • Positive perceptions of STEM professionals
  • School STEM opportunities
  • Self-concept
  • STEM career aspirations

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