Is Boys’ Underachievement Caused by Too Much Feminization in Education?

Feminization in education refers to the increasing dominance of females within the teaching profession, especially in early childhood education and primary education, and its consequences.  Various arguments are being given on why this is generally a bad thing. The first argument is that it deprives boys and girls from male role models.  In South Africa, with a sizable share of one-parent and zero-parent households, this could have a significant effect.  Secondly, when teachers are increasingly recruited from only half of the population, there is a higher chance on qualified teacher shortages.

The third argument is potentially the strongest, that increasing feminisation has negative effects on learning outcomes of boys.  PISA results have consistently shown that boys are more likely than girls to be overall low-achievers, meaning that they are more likely than girls to perform below the baseline level of proficiency in all three of the subjects that are tested in PISA: reading, mathematics and science.  Moreover, boys in OECD countries are twice as likely as girls to report that school is a waste of time, and are 5 percentage points more likely than girls to agree or strongly agree that school has done little to prepare them for adult life when they leave school.

This underachievement and these negative attitudes seem to be strongly related to how girls and boys absorb society’s notions of “masculine” and “feminine” behaviour and pursuits as they grow up. For example, several research studies suggest that, for many boys, it is not acceptable to be seen to be interested in school work. Boys adopt a concept of masculinity that includes a disregard for authority, academic work and formal achievement. For these boys, academic achievement is not “cool” (Salisbury et al., 1999). Although an individual boy may understand how important it is to study and achieve at school, he will choose to do neither for fear of being excluded from the society of his male classmates. Indeed, some studies have suggested that boys’ motivation at school dissipates from the age of eight onwards and that by the age of 10 or 11, 40% of boys belong to one of three groups: the “disaffected”, the “disappointed” and the “disappeared”. Members of the latter group either drop out of the education system or are thrown out. Meanwhile, studies show that girls seem to “allow” their female peers to work hard at school, as long as they are also perceived as “cool” outside of school. Other studies suggest that girls get greater intrinsic satisfaction from doing well at school than boys do.  Boys are more likely than girls, on average, to be disruptive, test boundaries and be physically active – in other words, to have less self-regulation. As boys and girls mature, gender differences grow even wider as boys start withdrawing in class and becoming disengaged.

These findings seem to suggest that traditional school settings are more challenging for boys than for girls.  Current school environments may inadvertently disadvantage boys with its emphasis on coursework and downplaying of competition. A lack of male teachers may increase the impression among boys that schools are something ‘for girls’. Secondly, male teachers may be more sensitive to and able to deal with these challenges.

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The Role of Gender in Fighting Poverty

gender-saSouth Africa has made great strides towards achieving gender equality in education. According to the 2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDG) report, gender parity on all education indicators has been achieved. In terms of access to primary education, gender gaps on educational accessibility are closed.  Proportionally more females are enrolled in secondary and tertiary level education than males.  Females are also more likely to have higher levels of educational attainment than males.

This progress towards gender equality has contributed to poverty reduction in various ways:

  • Increased levels of education have empowered females as they get equipped with the self-confidence, knowledge and skills to participate fully in their communities.
  • Education of girls has resulted in higher family incomes and increased productivity.
  • Health benefits of education with an impact on poverty reduction include delayed marriages, reduced fertility rates and improved maternal and child health.

Despite the achievements, the latest Gender Series report on Education (2004-2014) from Statistics SA reveals many remaining challenges:

  1. There are large gaps in subject preferences and performance, which often result in varying social and economic gender inequalities. For example, there is a significant gap in South Africa in favour of males qualified in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects, resulting in male dominance in STEM-related occupations such as engineers and architects.  More females are enrolled for Business and Commerce, Education and Other Humanities study fields. Education has the highest gender disparities, followed by Other Humanities (3/1 and 1,77/1 ratios respectively).  Male-dominated professions are often those that command higher pay.  Gender prejudice within the education system about maths and science abilities of females remain widespread.
  2. Males are more likely than females to enrol in Masters and Doctorate studies.  Females enrol more frequently in lower tertiary qualifications.
  3. Employment absorption rates for females are significantly lower than for males, leaving them more at risk of poverty despite their education levels.  Moreover, South African women remain disadvantaged in terms of pay, promotion, job stability and status.
  4. There are persistent gender inequalities in performing unpaid care or house work.  Women spend more time on unpaid work, having a negative impact on their careers in the labour market, impacting their work status and pay, regardless of levels of education obtained.
  5. Boys’ performance in literacy is significantly lower than that of girls. Boys are also more likely to leave school early. Some of the negative social impacts associated with boys dropping out of school include crime and gender-based violence. This confirms the need for a growing focus within the gender rights movement on the construction of masculinity.
  6. Girls are more likely to stay at home due to family commitments such as child minding, which seems to have a bigger impact on girls living in urban areas as opposed to rural areas. Pregnancy and marriage also act as social gender-specific obstacles that hinder access to education for girls, particularly those from rural areas.

The most fundamental impact of education and gender equality on poverty reduction may lie in its impact on slowly changing norms in a society:

“In particular, the education of boys and girls—beyond its role in building human capital—is crucial in shaping norms. In multiple discussions, adolescent boys and girls described how education exposed them to new ideas and knowledge, enlarging their capacity to analyse and encouraging critical scrutiny of established gender relations and the status quo. These discussions reaffirmed what is already known about the intergenerational transfer and reproduction of norms within households. Education fosters learning away from the household environment where gender roles are played out in every interaction and action. The research team realised the importance of ensuring that school curricula offer gender-neutral learning opportunities.”  (World Bank, 2012)

 

These results confirm some of the findings from the World Bank Report which I wrote about earlier.

“One of the more consistent findings across the 97 research sites is the universality and resilience of the norms that underpin gender roles.  In every research location, women and men of all generations identified the dominance of women’s domestic role and men’s bread winning role as absolutely core to female and male identities. Some of the focus groups gave evidence of gender norms changing, albeit slowly and incrementally, with new economic opportunity, markets, and urbanization.”

This blog post is a contribution to the IIEP Course “Monitoring and Evaluating Gender Equality in Education’, edition 2016.

Sources:

Taylor, S. & Spaull, N. 2015. Measuring access to learning over a period of increased access to schooling: The case of Southern and Eastern Africa since 2000, International Journal of Educational Development, 41, 47-59.

Statistics SA, 2015, Gender Series Volume II, Education, Report No. 03-10-12 (2004–2014)

World Bank, 2012, On Norms and Agency Conversations about Gender Equality with Women and Men in 20 Countries (link)

 

What Makes a Great Educational Institution?

The New Republic posted an interesting article discussing the merits of university education and whether the universities commonly known as’great’ universities (Ivy League, those on top of the Times Higher Education University Rankings or Shanghai Ranking) offer a truly outstanding education experience.  Interestingly, the author taught at Yale, one of those great universities, for 10 years.

The article touches upon many of the problems with organizing, recognizing and measuring quality education.  Do read the article in full, but here are some take-aways:

  •  Elite schools like to boast that they teach their students how to think, but all they mean is that they train them in the analytic and rhetorical skills that are necessary for success in business and the professions. Everything is technocratic—the development of expertise—and everything is ultimately justified in technocratic terms.
  • Professors and students have largely entered into what one observer called a “non-aggression pact.” Students are regarded by the institution as “customers,” people to be pandered to instead of challenged. Professors are rewarded for research, so they want to spend as little time on their classes as they can. The profession’s whole incentive structure is biased against teaching, and the more prestigious the school, the stronger the bias is likely to be.
  • What Wall Street figured out,” as Ezra Klein has put it, “is that colleges are producing a large number of very smart, completely confused graduates. Kids who have ample mental horsepower, an incredible work ethic and no idea what to do next.”
  • Diversity of sex and race has become a cover for increasing economic resegregation. The truth is that the meritocracy was never more than partial.  Kids at schools like Stanford think that their environment is diverse if one comes from Missouri and another from Pakistan, or if one plays the cello and the other lacrosse. Never mind that all of their parents are doctors or bankers.
  • This system is exacerbating inequality, retarding social mobility, perpetuating privilege, and creating an elite that is isolated from the society that it’s supposed to lead. The major reason for the trend is clear. Not increasing tuition, though that is a factor, but the ever-growing cost of manufacturing children who are fit to compete in the college admissions game.  The more hurdles there are, the more expensive it is to catapult your kid across them. Wealthy families start buying their children’s way into elite colleges almost from the moment they are born: music lessons, sports equipment, foreign travel (“enrichment” programs, to use the all-too-perfect term)—most important, of course, private-school tuition or the costs of living in a place with top-tier public schools. The SAT (a college-readiness test) is supposed to measure aptitude, but what it actually measures is parental income, which it tracks quite closely.

“I used to think that we needed to create a world where every child had an equal chance to get to the Ivy League. I’ve come to see that what we really need is to create one where you don’t have to go to the Ivy League, or any private college, to get a first-rate education.”  

Indeed, although I regret the decision by the Open University (forced upon by government) to raise tuition to the extent they did, the non-financial barriers to get a first-rate education (despite the fact that, as an online university they are absent from international rankings) are low, making them a force for social mobility.

Evolutions in Global Gender Norms: Findings from World Bank Study

Some takeaways from a recently published study (pdf file) from the World Bank on gender equality and shifting gender norms .  Thanks to the FP2P (From Poverty to Power) blog for the hat tip.

  1. Gender norms are evolving in the 20 countries of the study, but slowly and incrementally.

gender_WB

“One of the more consistent findings across the 97 research sites is the universality and resilience of the norms that underpin gender roles.  In every research location, women and men of all generations identified the dominance of women’s domestic role and men’s bread winning role as absolutely  core to female and male identities. Some of the focus groups gave evidence of gender norms changing, albeit slowly and incrementally, with new economic opportunity, markets, and urbanization.”

2. Increasing urbanisation is a powerful driver for gender equality.  On average, urban women face less discrimination than rural ones.

3. Shifts in economic activity (from agriculture and manufacturing to services) benefit women, but also disadvantage men:

The result unfortunately is at least as likely to be destructive (drinking, abandonment, violence) as ‘hey, let me do the cooking for once’. Which reinforces the growing focus within the gender rights movement on the construction of masculinity.” (FP2P)

4.  Gender preference for parents and willingness to invest in girls’ education are strong predictors for gender equality in a country.

5.  Gender studies should preferably look beyond outcome data such as female labour market participation or girls’ participation in education.  Gender norms are determined by decision-making at the household and individual levels, as well as the functioning of markets and formal and informal institutions.

6. Education is a main instrument to influence gender norms

“In particular, the education of boys and girls—beyond its role in building human capital—is crucial in shaping norms. In multiple discussions, adolescent boys and girls described how education exposed them to new ideas and knowledge, enlarging their capacity to analyse and encouraging critical scrutiny of established gender relations and the status quo. These discussions reaffirmed what is already known about the intergenerational transfer and reproduction of norms within households. Education fosters learning away from the household environment where gender roles are played out in every interaction and action. The research team realized the importance of ensuring that school curricula offer gender-neutral learning opportunities.”

Reflections on Accessibility Challenges for Disabled Learners in Cambodia

source: http://pwds.wordpress.com/

Notwithstanding a remarkable recovery in Cambodian education in the last decade, access for disabled learners has lagged behind.  Accessibility goes beyond the availability of computers and teaching resources.  

Challenges

Barriers to education for disabled students start with barriers in society. Large pupil:teacher ratios and small classrooms reduce accessibility. Instruments for diagnosis are not in place and, as a result, students with learning difficulties or ‘invisible’ disabilities such as dyslexia or mental impairments often end up being labelled as stupid and drop out. The education system is strongly centralized with a rigid curriculum and inflexible learning outcomes that emphasize academic achievement, as opposed to all-round development. As a result, teachers are less flexible and pay less attention to individual learning needs.  

Local NGOs tend to establish special schools, rather than develop integrated programs. Assistive technologies they introduce may not be scalable and render learners dependent on technologies that their families or future employers cannot afford. The pre-existence of a segregated education system makes it more difficult to achieve inclusive education later.  Unfortunately, activities of specialized NGOs give other organisations an excuse not to focus on disabled learners, sustaining an old-fashioned, medical approach to disabilities.

There are socio-economic barriers as well.  Many Cambodian parents decide not to send their disabled children to school. They consider education primarily as a way to acquire wealth and wrongly believe that the first few years of education matter less than the next ones. As a consequence, they tend to invest all their resources in the education of one child, rather than in an equitable education for all their children. Moreover, employment opportunities are scarce as employers are not encouraged to hire disabled people. Until 2008 disabled people in Cambodia were even excluded from teaching.

This is enhanced by social discrimination. Buddhist culture considers a disability as bad karma and a punishment for faults committed in a previous life (Krousar Thmey 2010 Annual Report). This leads to social discrimination and instils a sense of complacency in disabled people and their environment.  Online education in general still faces tough cultural challenges.  Online learning is often considered as second-rate education in a society where education is traditionally associated with teacher instruction and memorisation.  Positive role models are important in changing attitudes and behaviour, as well as systems of quality assurance for online education. 

Opportunities 

In 2012 the Cambodian National Assembly decided to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). As the Convention enters into force on 19 January 2013, it will legally bind the government to work on inclusive education.  Ratification fuels expectations that the Cambodian government will adopt a social and universal approach to disabilities, in alignment with the WHO’s position. Developing course and materials with accessibility and flexibility in mind benefit all learners, as these cater to a variety in learning styles, learning speeds and impairments. 

Disabled learners may benefit from more online learning as they can study at their own pace at home. Digital learning materials are usually more flexible as font sizes and types, background colours and format can be changed and assistive technologies used. Online learning allows more control on communication and disclosure. However, online learning may also increase barriers, due to badly designed software and learning materials, or due to a lack of personal support.  

In Cambodia ‘blended’ approaches with supporting regional centres, located in schools or centres for teacher education, that  complement online activities and function as places for tutor assistance and peer support, could be explored. A model applied for some time, among others, in Brazil. Online learning would expand educational opportunities for people outside the capital, deploy scarce human resources more efficiently and allow teachers to follow in-service training without having to leave their schools. The Teacher Education in Sub-Saharan Africa (TESSA) programme is a good example of contextualising online learning to teacher education in developing countries.

Changes in legislation do not automatically lead to improvements in accessibility. The government needs to invest in human capital for specialised support services and make assistive technology more widely available, for example through loan kits.  Principles of universal design and awareness of disabilities should be embedded in general teacher education.  Most importantly, disabled people need to be convinced that they as well can have dreams and aspirations, and that they can achieve them as well, with the right support.

Online learning can contribute to an inclusive learning environment by providing a platform for creating and sharing accessible learning materials, creating opportunities for scaling up pre-service and in-service teacher education, allowing learners to study in a more flexible way and opening up access to international courses.