Differentiated education and sexual stereotypes


Much research on sexual stereotypes has analyzed how the type of school, and more specifically the profile of classmates, can affect the mathematical gap between the sexes.

Scientific literature on sexual stereotypes

In this sense, boys-only or girls-only schools represent a particularly interesting field of study to validate or refute different theses: do they reinforce the stereotypes associated with each sex, thereby increasing the gap in mathematics; Or, on the contrary, do they contribute to closing it to the extent that they avoid the comparative factor?

The scientific literature is not conclusive in this regard. Some studies indicate that the difference in results or preferences between boys and girls is not reduced in differentiated centers; even increases. This is indicated by an Irish study. However, the widening of the gap in mathematics observed in this analysis is not due to the fact that female students in all-female schools obtain worse results than those in coeducational schools, but because the boys in male schools do improve with respect to the others.

Another study, in this Australian case, indicates that the apparent greater disposition towards technical careers of female students in that country disappears when the effect of other variables, such as socioeconomic level, is discounted. On the other hand, it does seem that the Australian single-sex centers break stereotypes with regard to biomedical careers, which are highly feminized, since in them the percentage of boys who opt for these studies is higher than the average, and the percentage of girls is lower. .

positive effects

However, there are also numerous examples in the scientific literature that do suggest a positive effect of differentiated schools in reducing the math gap. One that focuses on Swiss female students is particularly interesting as it builds on an actual Swiss experiment in which a cohort of female students was randomly assigned to mixed or all-girls classes and followed performance for four years. The latter obtained better grades in mathematics, and developed greater confidence in their abilities for this subject (in contrast, no difference was observed in the subject of Language).

Another similar experiment, carried out in Chile, showed similar results: female students assigned to all-girls classes in mathematics (within a mixed school) achieved better grades than the rest of the girls, to the point that the gap of gender was cut in half.

Some studies conclude that single-sex schools reduce the gap between the sexes, but others find no positive effect

A 2010 meta-analysis tries to take stock of the different investigations published until then. Regarding the gap in results, he points out that many studies suggest that differentiated centers manage to reduce it; many others show no significant effect, or only for disadvantaged students; instead, very few observe a negative influence. The same can be said of the gap in mathematical vocations (few girls who opt for technical careers): there is a great deal of research linking single-sex education with a less gender-stereotyped choice of studies, and many others that do not see a relationship, but there is hardly any examples of these centers widening the gap.

Article on sexual stereotypes in single-sex education
According to an Australian study, single-sex education reduces sexual stereotypes

A study on sexual stereotypes at school

Thus, although the scientific literature does not offer a unanimous assessment of the effect that the different types of school can have on the so-called “science gap”, it does at least seem that, in certain contexts, single-sex teaching can be useful to reduce it. As almost always happens in the world of education, perhaps the most determining factor is the environment that each teacher generates in their classroom. We wanted to ask some Mathematics teachers, from mixed and differentiated schools, to give us their opinion, and above all their experience, about the so-called gender gap among their female students.

Natalia has been a Mathematics teacher at a mixed institute in Madrid for more than ten years. She teaches high school students. According to what she tells Aceprensa, she has not perceived a gender gap in terms of results, but she has in relation to the attitude towards the subject: they are less interested in it.

When I ask her if she has perceived a greater insecurity in her students, she admits that she had never noticed it, but that it is certainly much more difficult for them to go to the blackboard to solve exercises in front of the whole class than for their classmates. Greater fear of failure? “Can”. Instead, she thinks the stereotype that math requires a special degree of brilliance is shared by girls and boys alike.

On the other hand, it notes that far fewer female students than males intend to pursue technical studies. It exists, she comments, as an affective predisposition in women to think in terms of “where can I help more”. Natalia attributes it fundamentally to cultural stereotypes.

As for whether all-girls schools can contribute to reducing the math gap, she points out that, although she is not in favor of these schools globally, perhaps they do help girls in the specific aspect of reducing the pressure to come to the blackboard. . “The boys go out without problem; if they’re wrong, it doesn’t matter. But girls don’t feel the same way.”

Equal opportunities, not results

Gema, also a Mathematics teacher, has taught in both girls-only and mixed schools, and now works in another that mixes classrooms of one type and another. In part, her experience coincides with Natalia’s: in high school, the subject of biology is chosen above all by girls, while in technical drawing the boys are the majority. However, she proudly points out that in the last (coeducational) high school promotions, many girls have opted for engineering.

She stresses that the objective should be to offer equal opportunities for each student to choose what they want, rather than closing the gender gap in “technical” vocations at all costs. On the other hand, she is not sure if this is due to cultural stereotypes or psychological issues: “That should be said by neuropsychologists.” However, she does observe a difference in the way of approaching mathematics: they, in general, are more hard-working, and although it is usually more difficult for them to “see it” at first, they can go as far as the boys.

What he has found is that at the mathematical contests organized by his region (specifically, the Spring Contest of the Faculty of Mathematics of the Complutense University), more boys appear and the grades are higher for them in all ages especially in high school.

Source: aceprensa