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Closing the education gender gap

Statistics are reflecting an ever-growing gap between the amount of girls and boys going to university. Universities minister, David Willetts, last year voiced that the gender gulf in educational achievement was a “major challenge for society”, with just four in 10 men graduating with a degree, against half of women.

The educational gender divide is an ongoing debate, with record figures of women coming to university in the last few years. Women have traditionally proved to be stronger academically, with boys falling behind girls after just a year of schooling. According to studies, the divide expands throughout the course of education, exemplified in 2011’s record GCSE results.

More than 26% of girls’ GCSEs saw them achieve at least one grade A or A* whereas, disappointingly, less than 20% of boys did the same. At university, women are also more likely to get a 2:1 and less likely to drop out. The pattern seems to carry on into the workplace, with women in their 20s now earning, on average, more than men of the same age.

So, why the recent flood of female students? And why are women traditionally more successful in the classroom than men? Many theories have attempted to answer the debate, arguing that education in itself is suited to female qualities: good organisational skills, patience, thoroughness, shown by girl’s consistent success rate in coursework, primarily in languages and English, although boys are statistically still more successful in maths and science.

Arguments of education being “feminised” are popular, claiming males find it harder to achieve in a system that favours women. One theory suggests that because the majority of primary and secondary school teachers are female, boys are offered no male role models from a young age, which apparently gives them no further encouragement to carry on with education. Really? If that’s the excuse, it’s pretty poor. To thrust an overreaching, generalised reasoning on students seems unfair and untrue.

It’s especially hard to see these statistics reflected in our own campus. According to a survey by StudentBeans.com, UEA currently has 59% females to 41% males (less shocking than Bishop Grosseteste University College who have 83% girls to 17% boys!), a minor difference. Of course, scientifically proven gender traits can hinder or improve performance in certain areas but it is impossible, and unfair, to blame a large gulf on a minor personality difference.

Another argument is gender stereotypes in careers leading to males opting out of a university education. Trades such as building and plumbing don’t require a university degree and, with the recent tuition fee increase, could now be looking like a better and more affordable option. This point can be combatted with a list of “typically” feminine careers such as hairdressing, retail, and beauty, all careers that don’t require a degree.

It’s not all bad for boys, though. They traditionally succeed over women in subjects such as maths and science, and with the abolition of maths coursework those results improved again in 2011. And it’s not all female dominated! Leeds College of Music has a tiny 24% of females to a whopping 74% males, with Imperial College London offering a 34% to 66% divide.

Most articles describing the gap don’t analyse the differences, instead just stating the statistics. Excuses that have been offered are poorly evidenced, generalised and seem to have a weak grasp on offering a solution, or even an explanation. Although the increase in women going to university and succeeding in education is obvioulsy positive, it’s a shame that the trend hasn’t followed for men. Whatever the reason, come on guys. You’re missing out.

15/05/2012

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laurencope



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