Friday, 1 May 2009

succeeding at school

i was listening to this interview on radio nz this morning with only half an ear this morning (seeing as how i also have to work for a living). kathryn ryan was talking to massey university lecturer mike irwin, the author of a book called "educating boys - helping kiwi boys to succeed at school". a few of the bits i paid attention to did make sense, and i have no beef with improving educational outcomes for boys. if we need some different approaches to help them do well, then we should look into that.

the thing i do have a beef with, however, is this notion that we've done really well with the "girls can do anything" campaign, and girls are now succeeding wonderfully at school. i beg to differ. i don't doubt that girls are doing well, relatively speaking. but they are not doing well in every field.

in my older daughter's IT class, there are only 2 girls out of a total of 20 students. last year was pretty much the same. last week i spoke to the associate dean of engineering at auckland university. he told me that the mechanical engineering stream had about 10% girls, which went up to 25% for other streams. i know the modern apprenticeship scheme has a very low uptake of women (something like 7% when i last heard).

the point is that i don't think the message has been totally successful, and there still needs to be work done to determine why it is that girls aren't taking some of these subjects. it's certainly not time to sit back and say our work is done, when areas of inequality remain.

as an aside, an interesting point that mr irwin made was that the gender of the teacher wasn't an important factor in boys. more important was the rapport they had with their teacher, and how motivated they felt by that teacher. although that would apply equally to girls as much as boys.


Anna said...

Eight or nine years ago, I went on a tour through the trades section of the local polytech - they were seeking feedback on how to remodel it. I noted that the only toilet on the floor was a male one, and suggested it could be changed. I was told that a female toilet wasn't needed, because girls don't do trades. I'd like to think things are better these days, but I'm not convinced. Women choose not to go into trades, but is that because they perceive it's a hostile environment? I'm personally quite interested in 'boyish' things, but I never for a moment considered making a career of them - I knew that I didn't belong on a building site.

In fact, I never even considered doing maths or science at school. They were generally taught badly, and only boys seemed to do well at them, so I just 'knew' they weren't for me.

Luckily, my daughter has absolutely no sense that some areas of learning are gendered. She loves graphs and maps and physics. She's seven now - will she think the same way in ten years time?

barvasfiend said...

Funny you mention the toilets - I was the second, but at the time, only girl to do my trade certificate at wgtn poly (which is now Massey campus at mt Cook). There were no women's toilets in the entire engineering/construction department at the time (1995).

I will say though, that the tutors, the courses and the rest of the students were great. The main form of social heirarchy was not gender, but rather whether one was studying mechanical (automotive) *good* or 'tin-bashing (panelbeating) *bad*.

I still have a deep-seated mistrust of panel-beaters.

Seriously though - the NZ education needs to sort out maths teaching, in my opinion, especially for girls. It's still pretty appalling that so few women move through into maths based fields.

Moz said...

What irritated many of the women I studied engineering with was employment discrimination. When they found jobs they generally did well and were on average slightly better paid than their male peers. But finding jobs was hard work. Most dramatically in chem and process, because it was going on half girls but a lot of traditional employers wouldn't touch them... the breweries being just the most blatant example.

That meant that actually graduating was often tricky, because you need to get 3 months practical work to graduate. A friend who was doing forestry literally applied to every employer who had ever employed a student (she got the list from the school of forestry) and found a job that way. But sending out a couple of hundred applications and having to spend her summer holidays in the deep south island did not make her happy... or likely to complete her degree or work in the field. She decided that if it was that hard to find a summer job (her male peers found it easy), finding permanent work would be at least as hard. So she switched to geography/geology, based entirely on how easy it was for women to find work in those fields once they graduated.

I expect things have changed since the early 90's, but a recession is going to revert that to some extent.

Julie said...

Most dramatically in chem and process, because it was going on half girls but a lot of traditional employers wouldn't touch them... the breweries being just the most blatant example.
Surely not Tui though??!!

stargazer said...

ok moz, that's just scary. given my daughter wears a headscarf, i suspect that would add an extra layer of difficulty in finding a placement and a job. i guess we'll just have to deal with that when we come to it. maybe jack up something overseas...