IMPACT OF GENDER DIFFERENCES ON STUDENTS LEARNING
Published May 17, 2020, 1:53 p.m. by Moderator
Gender differences are mostly founded on the basic argument that male and female brains are wired differently and thus boys will tend to excel in science and technical subjects while girls excel in arts and creative subjects. Proponents of this argument advocate for separate learning exercises for boys and girls. Baron-Cohen explains that the inherent gender differences are due to social-cultural misconceptions such as misogynistic socialization, absence of female mentors for female candidates, and inadequate backing for female employees during important phases of their career development for example during childbirth (Baron-Cohen, 2009).
Overall in the field of mathematics and physics, women remain underrepresented. Some of the possible explanations put forward for the lack of women include gender scientific and spatial skill gaps, gender discrimination, and gender dissimilarities in job choices and way of life. An in-depth analysis indicates that gender differences are due to a combination of personal preferences and cultural choices imposed by society (Ceci and Williams, 2010).
Studies have shown that men perform better than women in cognitive related tasks while in general intelligence both perform at similar rates. One key area that women are lagging is in the development of spatial ability. The lack of development of spatial abilities in girls can be blamed on the parents and teachers who discourage girls from developing these skills while encouraging boys (Reilly et.al, 2017).
This preferential treatment encourages boys to pursue mathematics and science-related occupations while it pushes girls to traditional roles that are non-technical. Studies also indicate that the improvement in spatial abilities enhances a student’s understanding of mathematical and scientific concepts. Some academics have suggested that the lack of spatial abilities could be one of the underlying factors for the lack of women in STEM fields (Reilly et.al, 2017).
However, thinking skills and spatial abilities can be developed through instruction and practice. The effects of transference and diligence will improve the spatial abilities of the student over some time. An increasing number of education practitioners have advocated for early instruction in spatial intelligence for female pupils to ensure that they are at par with their male counterparts. They contend that early education will provide considerable benefits for the advanced improvement of mathematical and scientific abilities across all stages of a girl's educational life (Reilly et.al, 2017).
Parents and guardians should also encourage their kids to employ spatial language which will provide them with learned actions that develop spatial learning skills. Additionally, an investigation is necessary to decide which forms of training exercises and durations are most effective for different student grades and learning abilities (Reilly et.al, 2017).
The biological argument that there are inherent differences in the brains of men and women which makes men more capable than women does not have any significant grounding in facts. Traditionally, hunting was the preserve of men while women were tasked with domestic duties. Hunting required cognitive skills such as spatial and mathematical skills while caregiving relied on intuition and emotions such as empathy leading to a divergence in the development of the male and female brain (Hines, 2015).
As a result of this, males developed spatial and mathematical abilities while females developed communication and perceptive abilities. Proponents of the biological argument believe that biology plays a bigger role in gender differences than external factors such as misogynistic socialization and lack of female role models. They also cite the inherent biological differences as the main reason why boys perform better in mathematics and sciences while girls thrive in social sciences and arts (Casey et.al, 1995).
External environmental factors such as socialization and upbringing have a significant impact on the learning abilities of males and females. Most schools have social structures such as rules and regulations which shape a child’s belief system and attitudes towards society. The socialization that takes place in schools places different expectations on male and female students. Early childhood education programs such as pre-school and kindergarten are very important in shaping a child’s identity. The child learns very early the expected gender roles based on masculinity or femininity. The children learn to associate and play with children of the same gender very early in life (Hines, 2015).
Furthermore, the school curriculum constitutes a considerable portion of the child’s learning experiences replacing a home-centered life with a school-centered one. In addition to peer to peer relationships, teachers’ expectations also contribute to the formation of gender identity and its subsequent reinforcement through reward and punishment. Teachers have segregated outlooks and expectations towards female and male students (Guledani, 2011).
Sometimes, the teachers’ expectations are based on prevailing gender biases and thus divide subjects based on gender rather than ability. For example, the prowess of a high achieving girl in ‘masculine subjects’ will be attributed to her hard work and diligence, not her innate cognitive abilities; whereas, the failure of an underachieving boy in the same subject will be ascribed to laziness not lack of ability. The majority of male teachers also discourage girls from pursuing technical or science subjects. This stereotype is further entrenched by a dearth of female role models in the science and mathematics fields to encourage young girls. Teachers’ and parents’ expectations are usually based on popular public opinions and this is reflected by their divergent demands for boys and girls (Guledani, 2011).
Researchers have also revealed that gender differences and cultural upbringing also play an important role in academic performance. A study by Richard Nisbett indicated that western and Asian students’ process information in different ways. Asian students perceive the world in terms of the relationships between things while American students perceive the world as distinct sets of objects that are governed by different rules. Many theories have been postulated to explain the inherent differences in academic performance among diverse racial and ethnic clusters (Lynch, 2018).
The three common models include the ‘cultural deficit theory’ that suggests that scarcities at home result in academic deficiencies in abilities, awareness, and conduct which in turn contribute to lowly academic performances. The ‘expectation theory’ bases academic performance on the expectations of the teachers and the ‘cultural difference theory’ which proposes that children brought up in different cultural upbringings will approach education in dissimilar ways (Lynch, 2018).
Baron-Cohen, S. (2009). Why so few women in math and science. The science on women and science, 7-23.
Casey, M. B., Nuttall, R., Pezaris, E., & Benbow, C. P. (1995). The influence of spatial ability on gender differences in Mathematics College entrance test scores across diverse samples. Developmental Psychology, 31(4), 697.
Ceci, S. J., & Williams, W. M. (2010). Sex differences in math-intensive fields. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 19(5), 275-279.
Guledani, K. (2011). Gender Influence on Educational Process | Gunda-Werner-Institute. Retrieved 22 November 2019, from https://www.gwi-boell.de/en/2011/02/08/gender-influence-educational-process
Hines, M. (2015). Gendered development. Handbook of child psychology and developmental science, 1-46.
Lynch, M. (2018). Examining the Impact of Culture on Academic Performance - The Edvocate. Retrieved 22 November 2019, from https://www.theedadvocate.org/examining-the-impact-of-culture-on-academic-performance/
Reilly, D., Neumann, D. L., & Andrews, G. (2017). Gender differences in spatial ability: Implications for STEM education and approaches to reducing the gender gap for parents and educators. In Visual-spatial ability in STEM education (pp. 195-224). Springer, Cham.