AuthorKindsiko, Eneli
  1. Introduction

    A girl, just a few months before she graduates from high school, makes a retrospective assessment about her classroom experience in terms of ICT classes:

    "During the computer classes in high school we learned more thanks to our fellow course mates than from the teacher. Perhaps if the teacher had been able to make the subject interesting, I would have started to like this field" (Respondent 193, female, survey transcript). This research aims to break the common misunderstanding that the disinterest in ICT (or any other so-called masculine) classes is a girls' problem. The above-mentioned quotation signposts how the problem seems to lie in the pedagogical lag. Numerous studies have managed to prove how the experience in school with specific classes and subjects determines not only the level of skills high school students acquire in their classes, but it also has a strong influence on what they decide to study at university. Therefore, in order to understand why we are not able to encourage enough young women to study in ICT fields, we have to understand what has happened in the pre-university phases (Dick and Rallis 1991, Gati and Saka 2001, Rowan-Kenyon, Perna, and Swan 2011, Zhang and Barnett 2015). For example, a study among Australian high school seniors has identified how interest in considering ICT related academic paths correlated strongly with the perception that ICT subjects were boring, especially among female respondents (Anderson et al. 2008). Furthermore, the study by Kindsiko and Turk (2017) revealed how females that eventually end up working in the ICT sector, had achieved this through rather atypical and long trajectories, in most cases even accidentally:

    "female ICT specialists expressed regret or worry over how they wished they had discovered ICT sooner in life or how if they had not been so caught by what society considered "proper" for women and girls" (Ibid. 110). The current article claims that many of the classical STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields have been taught at rather well-established levels and in standardized forms to secure quality, but the incorporation of ICT-related computer classes during pre-university educational levels is eclectic and rather weak, not keeping the pace at which the ICT field is developing outside schools. In addition, a lack of interest in ICT subjects at the high school level might be due to the students' experience in junior secondary school. As revealed in the study by Lasen (2010: 1123-1124), junior ICT subjects tend to focus on "developing keyboard and word processing skills through mundane and repetitive tasks" that were "facilitated by teachers who lacked necessary expertise and passion". Due to the rapid development of the ICT sector and application of ICT in our everyday lives, educational institutions have difficulty in providing computer classes at the necessary levels. This leads to our first research question: RQ1: How does the level of teaching and what is taught in computer classes in high school predict the willingness to study ICT?

    Furthermore, a long stream of studies has managed to show how engineering and science, but also ICT fields, seem to be perceived as stereotypically male occupations, especially among young women (Eccles 1986, Dick and Rallis 1991, Anderson et al. 2008, Van Langen 2016). Dick and Rallis (1991) have shown how a strong preparation in STEM fields is necessary in high school, albeit insufficient for students to be interested in scientific and technological fields. Instead, especially in case of women they signpost the role of socializers in determining future academic and career choices--namely, those high school seniors who have decided to choose science and engineering careers seem to have experienced specific encouragement from parents or teachers (Roach 2011, Lang 2010, Zhang 2007, Dick and Rallis 1991). Unfortunately, parents, teachers and school counsellors themselves can have gender stereotypes regarding ICT and hence do not advise girls to choose that path (Van Langen 2016). In addition, studies seem to signpost how in order to increase female interest in ICT related subjects, schools should diversify the way ICT courses are taught because some ways might reinforce gender stereotypes and alienate young women by constructing computing as a masculine practice (Abbiss 2009; 2011). This leads us to the second research question: RQ2: Are the factors that predict the willingness of male and female students to study ICT different and how?

    The paper focuses on classroom experience. Therefore, the article will start by establishing a theoretical overview of how classroom experience could influence girls' preference towards studying ICT. Next, an empirical study across 5 high schools and close to 300 senior year students will reveal their classroom experience with obligatory ICT classes. The paper will end by signposting important findings, whilst locating them within the existing scholarly debates on the matter.

  2. Theorizing of classroom experience and its influence on girls

    We build on Bandura's social cognitive theory, which states how learning takes place in a complex social context and is based on a triadic reciprocal interaction between the person, environment, and the behavior (Bandura et al. 2001, Bandura 1999, 1993). Bandura (1993: 145) highlights how "people who have a low sense of efficacy in a given domain shy away from difficult tasks," and girls are proven to be more modest in claiming they are very good at some academic domain (Beyer 2014). As Taylor (2005: 184) pointedly puts it: female high school students "eliminate themselves from 'the game'" voluntarily. Yet, we must also consider how the direct social school environment can fuel this belief of not being good enough. Therefore, in the current article we focus on how experiences of ICT subjects influence future decisions on whether boys and girls would like to study ICT at university level.

    Literature on why girls or boys eliminate themselves from the 'game' tends to explain the situation from the three (often interconnected) sides: stereotypical attunement of the teachers (do girls and boys experience gendered stigmatization for their skills in the subject?), pedagogical skills of the teacher (how well does the teacher convey what is taught?), and technical skills of the teacher (how high is the level of teaching, content wise?). All three aspects facilitate the classroom experience.

    Gendered stigmatization. Previous research provides great evidence of how teacher-student interaction tends to be gendered (Tsouroufli 2002, Aukrust 2008, Gunnarsson 2019). For example, it has been claimed that having taken ICT related courses (and gaining positive experience from this) during the pre-university phase is significantly more important for girls than boys in determining whether they will choose to study ICT related fields afterwards (Michell et al. 2018, Wang et al. 2015). Interestingly, it has been found how "teacher rather than student gender influence teacher expectations", meaning that, "female teacher expectations for the girls and boys in their classes were higher than those of male teachers" (Watson et al. 2017: 15). But most of all it has been proven how in classroom setting, the gender influences boys and girls in creating a feeling "how much girls and boys felt they belonged in that environment" (Master et al. 2016, 433). For example, Schumacher and Morahan-Martin (2001) have shown how at the high-school level, girls are significantly less inclined to enroll in computer programming classes than their male counterparts, because they perceive they do not fit there.

    The pedagogical side of teaching. The pedagogical side of teaching in terms of computer classes reveals an important facet, which might not be so dominant in case of other academic domains. Namely, ICT field is often perceived as built on good problem solving and 'out of the box' thinking. Studies reveal how during the school years girls tend to adopt the 'familiar algorithmic reasoning'--sticking to the standard methods (Sumpter 2016: 1550). Simply put, girls tend to follow what their teachers had shown them (Fennema 1998). This implies how instructors in computer classes should pedagogically start to break the pattern strongly facilitated by other academic domains, where girls learn mostly by the textbook. Also, studies show how linking the content of teaching...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT