Natalie Frank, a Ph.D in clinical psychology, specializes in pediatrics, health psychology, and behavioral medicine.
Over the past twenty-five years, the educational advancement made by women has been significant. The gaps for educational attainment between the genders have all but disappeared for the young women being educated today. While girls still lag somewhat behind boys on mathematical and science achievement, girls in high school average higher grades and reach higher achievement levels in reading and writing compared to same-age boys.
These discrepancies in achievement by subject persist into adulthood. It has been shown that women between the ages of 16 and 65 achieved higher scores on comprehension and interpretation of prose than similar age men. There were also fewer women (40 percent) scoring at a low level in these areas compared to men (44 percent). Consistent with findings from earlier ages, women do not score as well as men in number-related subjects such as mathematics (Sax, 2008).
Females today are also more likely than males to attend college. Surveys of educational institutions show that females are just as likely to graduate with a post-secondary degree as are males. This coincides with an increase in the expectations women have for pursuing careers after education as well as increased enrollment in graduate programs.
Despite the continued discrepancy in math and science achievement for girls and boys, women are choosing to pursue degrees in the life sciences, physical sciences, and engineering at higher rates than ever before. These changes in women’s goals for their education, underscores the need for continued focus on how best to educate women from the time they first enter school (Ceci, Ginther, Kahn, & Williams, 2014).
Changes in Female Education
A major change in the education of girls, adolescents and women has to do with accountability and expectations (DiPrete & Buchmann, 2013). Many educational experts have pointed out discrepancies in expectations for boys and girls. High achievement expectations for boys and holding boys accountable for what was viewed as under-performance was not the same approach taken with girls. Girls, instead, were traditionally praised for their effort regardless of outcome and comforted for under-performance.
Achievement and performance beyond a basic skill level was not viewed to be as important for girls as for boys (Sax, 2008). Now education emphasizes reinforcement for high achievement, setting high achieving goals and expectations and accountability for under-performance for girls just as much as for boys.
Additionally, the way science and math education is approached for girls has altered the education of females of all ages. The main shift in education in this arena has been from assuming that girls needed to be changed to better understand difficult concepts, to viewing schools as what needed to be changed. Schools are now being held more responsible for engaging girls in science and math topics in ways that make such topics more attractive (Scantlebury & Baker, 2007).
To this end, pedagogy focused on ending bias and sexism in teaching which discouraged girls from succeeded in math and sciences. New curriculums have been developed to specifically address the specific needs, learning styles and values of girls. Further attempts to improve girl's skills in science and math has taken an intensive approach by focusing more in-depth on science and math inside as well as outside the school. It is hoped a more continuous approach will help improve girls' knowledge and skills in science and math (Brotman & Moore, 2008).
Social Change and Advancement for Women Due to Better Education
With the increase in educational approaches targeting female strengths and weaknesses, and the increased number of women completing post-secondary degrees there has been the expectations that with increased competence would come the advancement of wages. Unfortunately, the increased numbers of women seeking post-secondary education has not translated to gender equality as far as wages are concerned.
The gender wage gap still exists though it can appear to be less of a problem than it really is. This is due to more women with college degrees ultimately earning more than their less-educated male counterparts such that the gender wage gap appears to have significantly narrowed. However, if men were achieving the same level of education at the same numbers as women, men would be earning on average 4 to 5 percent more than women given they are paid more for the same jobs and with the right education are more likely to be hired for advanced positions than women. Additionally, men’s unemployment rate would be one half to one percent lower than women’s rate.
Additionally, even with these changes in education a glass ceiling still exists in terms of promotion and advancement. While there are more women in the workforce able to obtain a job they aspire to the opportunities for advancement continue to be less than for their male counterparts. Women and men in management positions were surveyed about their views related to promotion of women into leadership roles. The overwhelming response was that gender stereotyping continues as it relates to the management role and this strongly influencing negative attitudes about the suitability of women in senior management positions (Wood, 2008).
Despite the continued existence of a wage gap and glass ceiling effect, higher education has been shown to lead to important social change for women. Education does this through the empowerment of women, which encourages them to become more involved in multiple areas of their life outside the home and in the world around them. This means that they have taken increasing responsibility for their own life satisfaction, leading to efforts to change impediments to their success and happiness.
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Empowerment can help women institute social change through gaining increased control of household resources and assets, obtaining more visible positions in society, and becoming involved in decision making and implementation of policy on behalf of women in their community, society or nation. Policy decisions influenced by women for women as opposed to by men for women produces a significant difference outcomes. It also influences how beneficial these outcomes will be in leading to social change related to how women are viewed and treated.
Today, there is a good deal understood about the state of education for women and how it needs to be altered to decrease stereotyping and increase knowledge and skills. Yet a more comprehensive understanding of the outcomes of improved education in light of the continued wage gap and glass ceiling needs to be obtained. In part, this might be addressed by a more detailed approach to examining education and increased opportunities for women as well as how education can help women bring about social change to create their own opportunities. Integrating how society and the employment sector views women with how women can be empowered to impact these views could help women obtain an equal opportunity to achieve their life goals.
It is important to determine the best manner for transmitting knowledge, expectations of success and a sense of empowerment to girls throughout the education process. To this end, research on how women can function in an educational role to encourage these and other important initiatives for girls over the course of their education is being conducted. It is hoped that women educators can contribute to education, employment and social policy both directly and through their influence on girls throughout the developmental process
The Role of Women Educators
As recently as 20 years ago, women educators were viewed as glorified baby sitters, with most high school teachers and almost all college professors being male. More recently, there has been a change of view regarding female teachers. This has led to an increase in the number of women teachers in post elementary levels and female professors in bachelor and graduate education. The number of female educators is still dependent on the field of study with far more women teachers found in the humanities, social sciences and helping professional programs. Yet the overall number of women educators has increased steadily in the past decade.
This increase is an important development. Women educators are more likely than their male peers to work towards advances in women’s education and associated opportunities that exist for young adults who are well educated (Greenleaf, 1973). Furthermore, it is female educators that are most likely to stimulate the discussions and debates about policy changes needed for additional improvements in women’s education. These types of dialogues, along with others regarding continued gender discrepancies in pay and promotion, are necessary if women are to continue to progress towards full equality.
This suggests that the responsibilities of women educators don’t stop at the school door but must continue into the community for continued attention to be given to women’s education. Female educators can model the behaviors necessary for these developments to take place. In this way they can empower the next generation of women as they learn about academic subjects needed for career placement.
Brotman, J. S., & Moore, F. M. (2008). Girls and science: A review of four themes in the science education literature. Journal of research in science teaching, 45(9), 971-1002.
Ceci, S. J., Ginther, D. K., Kahn, S., & Williams, W. M. (2014). Women in academic science A changing landscape. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 15(3), 75-141.
DiPrete, T. A., & Buchmann, C. (2013). The rise of women: The growing gender gap in education and what it means for American schools. Russell Sage Foundation.
Greenleaf, Elizabeth A. (1973). The Role of Women In Education — Responsibilities of Educated Women. Educational Horizons 52:: 77-81.
Reskin, B. F., & Roos, P. A. (2009). Job queues, gender queues: Explaining women's inroads into male occupations. Temple University Press.
Sax, L. J. (2008). The gender gap in college: Maximizing the developmental potential of women and men. Jossey-Bass.
Scantlebury, K., & Baker, D. (2007). Gender issues in science education research: Remembering where the difference lies. In S. Abell & N. Lederman (Eds.), Handbook of research on science education (pp. 257–286). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Wood, G. (2008). Gender stereotypical attitudes: past, present and future influences on women's career advancement. Equal Opportunities International, 27(7), 613-628.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
Questions & Answers
Question: What types of praise and feedback would be best to motivate female learners?
Answer: Praise definitely can serve as a positive motivator for children. However, maybe because of different ways praise is usually applied in classroom settings for boys and girls, it has often been shown to be ineffective or even negative as it relates to motivation and self concept. So it’s important to recognize that different types of praise and different circumstances vary in terms of efficacy based on gender.
One factor that has been shown to be related to praise effectiveness is whether praise is focused on the person or some aspect of the performance such as the outcome or product or the process or effort. Praising the final product such as saying, “What a great essay,” or the process or effort such as saying, “You put in so much work on that project,” can be more reinforcing that praising the child such as as saying, “You are such a smart student.”.
However, the effectiveness of praise can vary based on the gender of the child. Research has suggested that girls may be especially susceptible to the negative effects of person praise particularly following subsequent failure. This is likely in part due to girls being more influenced by interpersonal relationships compared to boys. This can lead to more negative effects of praise when it focuses on external evaluations for girls than for boys.
So when girls are consistently praised for ability in success situations they may come to view themselves as the problem in subsequent failure situations instead of believing it is just a single instance and that their performance can change. Boys on the other hand, are less likely to be affected by external evaluations and interpersonal aspects of reinforcement. They are able to largely ignore person related praise from others, having greater internal standards of excellence and a sense of competency.
One explanation for the effect of person related evaluations cites the traditional socialization process. This process typically focuses on dependence and interpersonal conformity for females and independence and achievement for males. Over time this can result in female looking to others evaluations to gage their ability, intelligence and achievement while boys look to their own self-evaluations.
Other research also reinforces the gender effect observed for person related feedback. Women have been shown to be more affected than men by person related evaluation which they see as an accurate reflection of their capabilities. Men are more likely to rely on their own internal evaluative standards and tend to discount the evaluative feedback of others. These effects have been observed for both positive and negative feedback.
The gender differences in response to person related feedback stands to reason as teachers give boys more negative feedback for non-intelligence related matters such as messy papers or out of control behavior than girls. Boys are praised almost always for intelligence while girls are more often praised for good behavior and effort. Boys may come to see negative feedback as frequent and largely unrelated to intellect and ability while girls may view negative evaluation as rare and highly relevant to ability and intelligence. These gender related experiences may differentially influence how person and performance related praise affect how later failure is handled.
Subsequent studies have further supported these findings. For example, mothers’ use of person praise in everyday interactions with their. Another study showed that girls reported being more motivated by effort that ability praise while boys showed the opposite pattern. It seems possible that, based on the manner in which feedback is provided in the classroom, that girls may be more comfortable with effort related praise whereas boys may be more comfortable with ability related praise. These studies, however, only examined success experiences. It is possible that failure experiences may be more related to negative types of feedback.
The take away from this discussion is that using process related feedback seems to be important for girls in educational acievement while for boys focusing more on ability and person variable appears to be more motivating. Overall, however, it is important to teach children how to evaluate external feedback in terms of when it is constructive and when it is not instead of based on their emotional response. Children should be guided in ways that help them develop self worth, self confidence and perceptions of competency based on their own realistic evaluations of their strengths.
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