Gender inequality in education still exists, right from the elementary school up to higher learning institutions, despite the efforts by the government and various groups to reinforce a gender-neutral education system. The environment greatly influences the beliefs and behaviors of people concerning the gender issues in education. The students begin their studies as gender beings because of their exposure to gender differences through religions, media, families and peers. The contents of media, such as films, televisions, or cartoons reinforce gender typing among the students, as well as teachers. Gender identity is reproduced in the classroom, especially by the teachers. They treat the two genders differently based on their stereotypical view of masculinity. The amount and nature of instructions that the teachers give to the students are totally different. The boys usually receive more complicated instructions and more attention as compared to their female counterparts. Gender inequality also manifests in terms of students’ subject selection. The majority of male students usually pursue the science subjects because they are technical as perceived by the many. On the other hand, the girls excel in less technical subjects, such as literature and French. The majority of teachers believe that the girls hate sciences and mathematics because they are difficult and involving. Even though some female students pursue the science-related discipline, very few of them specialize in certain areas. For instance, very few female students usually specialize in surgery and anesthesiology because of their nature. The gender inequality in education results in severe consequences for both boys and girls. Therefore, it is important for the stakeholders of education to change the rules used in gendered classroom in order to obtain a transformative education.
Gender mainly defines a range of characteristics, such as biological sex and the social structures based on sex that pertain and differentiate between femininity and masculinity. Gender and education have been a serious concern that raises a heated debate in many societies. The discrimination in education based on gender mainly occurs because of the environment that people live. In most cases, the children begin their education as gender beings because of their exposure to gender inequality and gender difference through media, religions, peers and families. For instance, the children from families that are gender insensitive believe that boys should perform specific tasks, especially the demanding ones while girls should perform the less demanding tasks. The classroom produces similar notions about gender difference and inequality, thus influencing the behaviour of the students. The education system in Canada has undergone many reforms with the government encouraging a gender-neutral education system. However, gender issues still exist in the classrooms, with the male students getting more attention and favour as compared to their female counterparts. The paper discusses the gender issues in education, especially within a Canadian setting based on my own experience and observations, and the information from various academic sources.
Gender Issues in Education
Traditionally, sex and class limited many people from accessing education. Even though the social activists and other groups advocate for the neutralization of gender in education, many societies still experience this challenge. The challenges of gender inequality and difference evident in the classrooms occur because of the stereotypes generated by the media, peers, and the storybooks that the children read. The false impressions that the teachers have concerning their understanding of masculinity enable them to reinforce this stereotype in the classroom, thus affecting the learning process. This stereotypical view of masculinity affects the nature and amount of attention that the teachers give the student (De Leeuw, 2007). For instance, the instructions given to the boys are usually more active as compared to the ones of the girls because of the belief that men understand faster than ladies. I had observed this idea when my friend explained that the instructions they had received from their teacher was different from the ones of their male counterparts.
The teachers give the girls less active instruction, both in the quality and quantity of their time and attention (Kimmel, 2007). The majority of teachers consider boys active, punitive, and quarrelsome while the girls are responsive, obedient, tenacious, and affectionate. In most of the classes I attended, the teachers could call boys more frequently and dedicate more time to them as compared to the girls. They could pose more challenging questions to the boys and allow them more time to answer. The difference in the attention received by both boys and girls occurs because the boys usually demand more attention and the teachers also treat them differently from the girls (Kimmel, 2007).
The students usually experience gender intensification in the environment and their own thinking even as they join the secondary education system (Kimmel, 2007). When the boys and girls are in adolescence period, gender intensification occurs, whereby they perceive the gender roles as being more rigid. Gender intensification in girls usually occurs in a form of decreasing self-esteem (Leathwood, 2013). They lose self-esteem because of the hostile environments they experience in many schools. In most schools, sexual harassment is a common vice because of the stereotypical view of the girls (Sundaram, 2010). The masculinity stereotypes encourage the boys to bully the girls because they consider themselves superior. The teachers also reinforce this stereotype, thus making the girls to feel less important. The boys also experience challenges as evident in the decrease of their self-esteem. However, the decline in self-esteem of the boys is less than in girls because they are often the perpetrators. The male students are usually the frequent harassers of female students and their fellow men. This form of abuse mainly occurs because of the homophobia and the reinforced ideology of masculinity. Therefore, the exaggerated masculinization is one of the factors that encourage gender inequality and difference evident in the secondary schools, which affect both boys and girls.
A gender-neutral education has been advocated in many fields, which has seen both boys and girls register for similar disciplines (Sundaram, 2010). For instance, girls can now pursue various disciplines such as medicine, which is demanding. The medical students explain that they do not experience gender difference and inequality in their classrooms. However, this would be untrue to assert that gender inequality does not exist in the medical discipline. Even though the female students pursue this discipline, gender still affects medical education, especially with the choices students make concerning their career directions in future. For instance, very few women usually pursue the highly paid jobs, such as surgery, internal medicine, and anesthesiology (Kimmel, 2007). On the other hand, the majority of the women pursue the less paid specialties of medicine, including the paediatric, family medicine, psychiatry, gynaecology and obstetrics.
According to the survey involving medical students, some of the female student explained that gender was an important consideration when selecting the future career (Kimmel, 2007). Very few female students considered surgery, especially because of its nature, which is demanding. They believed that surgery created a masculine environment and they could find it difficult to balance the long demanding hours and their family chores. When choosing future careers, the female students considered marital and parental status as important factors. The majority of the women interviewed explained that they chose certain disciplines at the expense of others because of the concerns they had about their family and career life (De Leeuw, 2007).
Gender differences and inequality in education also occurs in the manner boys and girls select their subjects (Sundaram, 2010). The majority of people focus on the interplanetary theory, which asserts that the girls and boys are categorically and fundamentally different from each other. The male students dominate the science subjects, while their female counterparts pursue French and literature. This is one of the observations I noted both in the secondary and post secondary education. The boys were associated with the difficult subjects because people believed that they had a better learning ability than the girls. Very few girls could pursue the science-related disciplines because of their nature created by certain stereotypes (Kimmel, 2007). The teachers encourage this gender difference and inequality because they believe that the girls are fond of reading and hate sciences and mathematics. The few girls who pursue such disciplines specialized in less technical areas. For instance, in the case of medical education, very few female students anesthesiology as their future career because of the stereotypes created that the career is difficult and demanding.
The governmental and non-governmental organizations, including the human activists employ efforts in order to prevent gender difference and inequality in education. However, the gender issues still exist in education, with the girls being the most affected. Based on my experience and observation, gender difference in education is a serious issue that needs to be addressed accordingly. The male students are usually considered superior to their female counterparts, when it comes to learning and performing certain tasks. The teachers who should advocate for a gender-neutral system are the ones who reinforce this stereotype. The male students usually pursue the highly paid disciplines because of the stereotypical view of masculinity. These stereotypes originate from the media, peer, family life and the storybook that the students read. However, these stereotypes have contributed to drastic effects on the boys as evident in the performance of the boys that declines. The majority of schools base their curriculum on the unsupported and stereotypical beliefs concerning gender difference, thus limiting the growth of the students. The gender inequality that exists in education results in the gender differences that people assume, with severe consequences for boys and girls. It impairs the efforts of both the genders to discipline their minds, find their voices, and to prepare themselves for future careers. Therefore, it is necessary for the government to change the rules used in gendered classroom in order to obtain a transformative education.
De Leeuw, S. (2007). Intimate colonialisms: the material and experienced places of British Columbia’s residential schools. The Canadian Geographer/Le Géographe Canadien, 51(3), 339-359.
Kimmel, M., S. (2007). The Gendered Society. Oxford; UK: Oxford University Press.
Leathwood, C. (2013). Re/presenting intellectual subjectivity: gender and visual imagery in the field of higher education. Gender and Education, 25(2), 133-154.
Sundaram, V. (2010). Gender and Education. Education Studies Textbook, 50-60.