Since time immemorial the debate has raged about whether Men and Women are equal – indeed it took two world wars to cement this notion into the majority of the global psyche – that women even had the capability of voting! Arguably the Swedish between 1718 and 1772 were the forerunners of female equality in the modern era. Notably New Zealand and South Australia followed suit in the late 19th century but it was only in 1918, post First World War that universal suffrage became a part of the human condition. Amazingly, Saudi Arabia only allowed women the vote in 2015!
So how has this affected education? For many, many years women were deemed as not being in need of education as it was the men who were the thinkers and doers – women, according to the era in which one found oneself, were to be found lacking in intelligence, destined to be only in the home or amongst the company of other like-minded women, frail, easy to disturb, over-emotional or simply not capable of handling education! Thankfully all of this has changed somewhat.
What The Experts Say…
According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) the gender change in education, in recent years, has been very dramatic. From just over a century ago, where education for girls was a choice between “Domesticate or Educate” we now have a situation (in 2013) where, for the first time, girls beat their male counterparts in graduating from high school or the equivalent (55% female to 45% male, globally). However, as much as this is a strong trend which continues to this day, there are still some troubling statistics of which to take note:
- UNESCO estimates that 130 million girls between the age of 6 and 17 are out of school;
- 15 million girls of Primary school age will never enter a classroom (half of them are reported to be in Sub-Saharan Africa);
- Poverty remains the number one factor in determining whether a girl can access education or not;
- Violence has a huge impact on education and in a survey conducted by USAid on Haiti cites one-in-three women aged between 15-49 has experienced violence of both a physical and sexual nature with 27% reporting schools as being the most common place for solicitation occurring;
- Child marriage is seen as a critical challenge, with an estimated 41,000 girls under the age of 18 married every single day!
It is not all doom and gloom though. According to OECD, six million students graduated university in 2013 with a Bachelor’s degree and 58% of the graduates were women.
The Skills Divide
Again, according to OECD, there is also a gap between genders in what is actually being studied. In the same study 64% of Bachelor’s degrees awarded in Education, humanities and social sciences were awarded to women, whereas 69% of the degrees in engineering and sciences were awarded to men – leaving the ladies behind at 31%.
This means that there is a certain amount of ‘engineering’ still happening in schools globally and by engineering here I mean we are still pushing girls in schools towards the ‘softer’ subjects. This, in turn, creates a perpetual skills divided in the workplace with men dominating the areas of engineering, medicine and scientific research whilst women dominate in other areas.
So, what can we do about it?
In a nutshell, we can all make a difference in our own way. At school age (between 4 and 18 years of age) we can all encourage both boys and girls to follow a pathway which suits their particular strengths. Many believe that there doesn’t exist the ‘Mathematical Brain’ but instead favour curiosity, tenacity and hard work as key attributes for student success at A-Level.
What is clear is that, as an institution in itself, education falls short when it comes to girls and the uptake of Mathematics. In the UK, 64% of boys who achieve A* or A at IGCSE in Mathematics continue with the subject into A-Level. For girls, on the other hand, only 43% continue in the same manner.
Quite an interesting read is Psychology expert Cordelia Fine’s book Delusions of Gender in which she states that there are clear physiological differences between the sexes but there is little or no evidence to suggest that the respective brains are wired differently. Fine believes that “The circuits of your brain are a product of your physical, social and cultural environment, your behaviour and your thoughts,” and that “gender as a social phenomenon is part of our neural circuitry.”
So, in short, depending on where one sits when viewing the roles of males and females in society: on Fine’s side that the gender arguments of days gone by are a construct to perpetuate male dominance or, like Professor Simon Baron-Cohen who states that female brains are hardwired for empathy whilst males are designed for understanding and building systems – one thing is clear: we have a better understanding of the human condition now than ever before.
Women are breaking down the barriers and smashing through the stereotypes of old and this is a good thing – but it hasn’t yet gone far enough. Fine also believes that economics plays a significant role in the decision-making process of women (amongst many other factors). In many cultures the male is the dominant gender and seen as the breadwinner of the family. However, in countries like Norway and Sweden it would appear that where financial stability is reached, women will, statistically, return to a less egalitarian state and adopt what we might consider to be a more feminine role. Seemingly then, where the desire for money outstrips the notion of choice, women will intrinsically adopt a masculine role in the workplace but where financials are settled and choices abound, women will resort to the comfort of a societally acceptable role. Strange!
However, at Royal School, we want to ensure that whilst being either a boy or a girl is celebrated, there should never be an instance where one is precluded from achieving by virtue of one’s gender. A boy should never be told that he is the wrong gender for gymnastics; similarly a girl should never be told she is the wrong gender to become an engineer. We support equality amongst the genders and celebrate the differences that each brings to the table.
At home, my advice is simple: celebrate all successes (no matter what the subject) and support where the child falters (again, no matter what the subject); never tell a child they cannot do something when clearly, if they apply themselves, they can achieve. Let the girls know that they are in the minority when it comes to traditional male roles; let the boys know that they are in the minority in the traditional female roles but also tell them that none of this matters and that they can be anything they want to be if they just apply themselves, think beyond what society is telling them and to work really, really hard!
Many thanks, once again for taking the time to read my newsletter this week. Should you have any thoughts on the gender divide, please do not hesitate to email me (email@example.com) or to pop through to the school.