The two research projects discussed in this essay are on attitudes towards and the expectations of girls in education and attainment. The authors are firstly Sue Sharpe, who researched girls’ attitudes towards their expectations of education, attainment and career prospects. Secondly Dale Spender, who herself was a teacher, researched the time she spent talking in class to girls and also other teachers’ attitudes towards girls. Sharpe researched using unstructured interviews to gain qualitative data and not statistical evidence. Spender researched using observation on how much time was spent in her classroom interacting with girls.
Sharpe’s study was carried out in 1972 and repeated in 1991, she interviewed 249 female pupils with a sub sample from the black population. Her findings were that girls’ priorities were marriage and family life rather than jobs and career. Most girls held very traditional ideas about womanhood; marriage, husbands, children, jobs and careers, more or less in that order. Girls believed their lives are to be centred on domesticity marriage and restricted job opportunities. (See appendix 1) Although the girls interviewed in 1991 appear more independent than those interviewed in 1972.
Many of the girls in 1972 had chosen careers in office work and in low paid jobs. In 1991 girls’ attitudes had changed saying they would like a career in nursing, teaching and veterinary nurse but none of the girls had said they would like to become doctors or surgeons. In 1991 the priority of the girls’ was still to get married. Relationships towards male within society appeared to have changed very little, they were still seen by girls as the breadwinners. Spender sees the education system being full of sexism towards girls, which in turn lowers their self-esteem.
She recorded her own lessons and although consciously trying to divide her time equally between male and female pupils her findings were that in reality, and according to her recordings she gave more time to the male pupils. Spender also suggests that in secondary education, teachers spent disproportionately large amounts of time dealing with boys to the exclusion of females within schools. Spender found she spent 38% of her time interacting with the girls. (See appendix 2) She also requested other teachers to mark the work of girls and boys, and found the teachers gave higher marks to the boys although all work was virtually the same.
She found girls have to wait longer than boys for attention in the class, in discussions the boys usually ignored female contributions. If boys were abusive towards the girls, the teachers usually ignored it. All this forces the girls to keep a low profile. Spender suggests that the hidden curriculum always ignores the contribution of women to the advance of knowledge, such as in the area of scientific research where the majority of great scientists are men and the role of women has been ignored or covered up.
In methodology both the above studies were only small scale and could not represent the wider population. Spender’s study was looking at inequality in education; she was examining the contribution made by the teachers towards girls. Sharpe was examining the attitudes of the girls while in the education system. In Spender’s study there is such a great possibility of bias, Spender can be criticised for not explaining her methods of data collection and this prevents replication of her study. Was Spender influenced by the wider society and the values she learnt as a child are now put back into her classroom?
In Sharpe’s study reliability and validity could have affected her results she may have had personal dislikes or mutual attraction differences caused by race class or gender. Her questions might have changed in different interviews. She could have asked more in depth questions to some girls and not to others, she may have influenced many answers given by the girls. Nevertheless the results of Sharpe seems more likely to be accurate because the study has been repeated and the same attitudes of girls twenty years later were the same.
The two studies are both based on girls being treated unequally within schools or the way girls are socialised by their parents and families. Girls are treated differently to boys at school. Girls get less attention from teachers, teacher’s attitudes and expectations were different towards girls. The hidden curriculum also contributes to gender in achievement. Girls soon learn that “it’s a man’s world” in the classroom with the consequence of lower self-esteem, ambition and motivation and the self-fulfilling prophecy may then come into effect. Institutional sexism plays a part when girls are choosing their options.
In 2002 teachers encourage the girls to take childcare and home economics and boys science and woodwork. All these contribute and help reinforce the `masculinity` or `femininity` of different subjects and if girls do not go along with the teachers’ expectations the girls will feel `different in some way`. In Sharpe’s study all the above contribute to the attitude girls have about future careers, girls may feel they are second class citizens because teachers are more encouraging towards boys and boys are more supported through there school life.
Despite many criticisms of the evidence of Spender, she suggests sexism is rife in the classroom in view of this there is a case for school adopting rigorous anti-sexist policies. Although Spender’s study was only small scale, it does suggest that girls are always disadvantaged in classroom interaction. If education is so biased against girls then why are girls doing so well with their results? Maybe a good option would be to have all single sex schools; this would stop all sexism in schools by teachers towards girls.
Although teachers in a all female school still may not put as much effort into the girls’ believing girls are only interesting in marriage and not career. So maybe single sex schools for girls may not work. Despite the efforts of the education system to secure equality in educational opportunities, children of equal ability from both sexes are still not achieving the same success. In looking at these two projects on gender inequality in education it seems to show that not only do teachers treat girls differently but also so do family members and society.
Many girls are socialised or maybe innate factors should be considered about why girls believe they should become housewives, mothers and only have careers in the caring professions or do courses in humanities. Sharpe suggests girls do feel that they can not gain the attainment they deserve to become a specialist. She also suggests that girls are more interested in marriage than careers. I believe the education system fails to provide the equality and social mobility girls should all be entitled to.