Education
9:44 am
Fri August 23, 2013

You are statistically more likely to stereotype if you don't pay attention to statistics.

Credit user HikingArtist / flickr

If I told you less than 1% of adults in the United States are in jail, it might not seem like a very significant number. But if I told you 1 in every 107 American adults is behind bars, it’s suddenly shocking. Statistics almost always have a catch, and they aren’t always completely faithful to reality.

 

At the intersection of technology and opportunity, these statistics are no less immune to caveats.

 

In a press release in June, Apple announced nearly 10 million iPads are being used in schools (a little more than 1 for every 6 students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade). That’s a lot of iPads, which mean a lot of opportunities for facilitating students with effective technologies. But obviously there isn’t 1 iPad for /every/ 6 students. Technology costs money and that means schools without money miss out. Those tablets are going to schools with the resources to afford them.

 

But there's more hope when you don't just rely on Apple's numbers. Programs like Google Play for Education and Bing for Schools are bringing Android and Windows tablets (respectively) to schools and provide more options. Both of these tablets come with different price ranges than the iPad, and in the case of Bing for Schools, schools can earn free tablets if they promise to use the Bing search engine.

 

If you think 1 in every 6 kids is getting an iPad in school, you may feel better about the state of education, even though the truth is more complicated. If you hear the seemingly never-ending statistics about how girls aren't breaking into science and math classes (STEM) you might feel worse.

 

There’s a lot of talk about girls in STEM classes and fields because these jobs are seen as high paying and stable employment that girls lag behind in. Its obvious that there are many disparities in STEM programs and jobs when it comes to gender. In 2010, 89% of California tech companies that received crucial seed money were founded by all male teams. This sounds like a crisis, but Mindshift wrote about a study that looked at those kinds of statistics in a different way; a way that offers a solution ripe for implementation.

 

The study found quite a bit of local variance in how many girls get into STEM. In some high schools girls take physics classes at the same rate, and sometimes at a greater rate, than boys. Where there is a higher percentage of women working in STEM fields in the local community, there is higher rate of participation of girls in physics. If more women in STEM means more girls in STEM, statistical hand wringing can take a break.

If the same stats are constantly repeated, numbers become self-fulfilling prophecies. Studies on stereotype threat show expectations and negative stereotypes hinder the performance of the groups they target. The propagation of half-truthful, or even not thoroughly examined statistics can just feed into these sterotypes.