Concepts and Contexts

The aim of this experiment was to see if there is gender difference in the subjects chosen for study at A level by students and furthermore to see if girls and boys chose subjects appropriate to their genders as according to stereotypical views about education. The hypothesis was that girls would chose more abstract and less academic subjects such as dance, sociology, drama, psychology and music whereas boys would chose more technical and theoretical subjects like mathematics, physics, sports studies and economics. Some subjects were also decided to be gender neutral subjects like history, languages and geography.

The null hypothesis was that students would chose gender inappropriate subjects for example girls choosing subjects like science or boys choosing subjects like art. Concepts and Contexts Context One – Arguments about gender inequality relating to factors outside the institution of schools. Concept One – Gender differences in innate ability. It is often suggested that the reason boys and girls do better at certain subjects and so are pushed into studying particular courses based on such results is because there are differences in innate abilities between the sexes.

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However, in contradiction these results often find girls to have greater ability than boys. Sociologist Harvey Goldstein suggested that on average girls perform better in the 11+ exam than boys. He also suggested that overall girls display greater ability (at least at the age of 11) and concluded “broadly speaking, for achievement in mathematics and reading the average differences are small, while for both verbal and non-verbal reasoning tests, the girls have a higher average score than boys”. But by age 16, boys have overtaken girls in reading and mathematics, while girls continue to do better in reasoning tests.

It is often suggested that one possible explanation for such differences is that girls mature intellectually sooner than boys do although later on boys are at an equal stage of intellectual maturity. Goldstein points out though, that IQ tests and the like have been largely discredited in their ability to test innate ability and there are many plausible explanations such as different experiences in the classroom that could explain the deterioration of girls ability in mathematics and reading. Concept two – Early Socialisation.

Fiona Norman pointed out that socialisation begins long before children start school. Conditioning and sex stereotyping are learnt and reinforced through play and external agents such as parents, peers or the media prior to beginning school. For example girls may have their educational aspirations affected through simply playing with dolls where they assume the role of carer. Boys tend to be more active during play and this often carries through to their interactions in the classroom whereby they seek a greater level of attention from teachers.

Boys tend to be given toys of construction or destruction (such as toys guns or swords) thus this enforces the ideas of men as more powerful – and through play, introduces mathematical or scientific concepts at a young age that girls do not get access to. A possible consequence of early socialisation is that they place a lesser value on education than boys and develop a different set of priorities for their futures. Sue Sharpe’s study of working class children in the 1970’s found that girls held different future concerns to boys suggesting as love, marriage and children as important.

Boys suggested jobs, careers and money as their major concerns for their futures. If girls see marriage as their future then they are likely to see little incentive to achieve in education and this is the problem that early socialisation creates. Concept three – Material factors The argument that factors of class and income affecting the motivation of girls and boys to succeed in education is debated. Though it is possible to see how if more resources are available to aid learning, such as computers or books then it is highly likely that child will do better in education.

There are few theories to suggest how this has a direct effect on gender difference in educational achievement – but J. W. B. Douglas found from his study that families devoted more of their resources to educating the boys of the family than the girls, thinking a boy’s education to be more important and necessary for him to develop a career than a girl’s. Families were more likely to fund post-compulsory education for boys than for girls. Context Two – Socialisation in school and behaviour in the classroom.

Concept One – Self-confidence related to criticism. Barbara G. Licht and Carol S. Dweck found through their observations of classroom behaviour and from analysis of other studies that girls had less confidence in their own abilities to complete intellectual activities, they did not attach significance to their successes and lost further confidence when they failed. Yet girls regularly outperform boys in examinations but attribute their success to mere luck or chance.