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A study on gender differences in computer science field found that despite males and females entering kindergarten with an equal ability in overall mathematics and science performance levels, there was an observable gender gap in mathematics and science by the end of 5th grade (Varma 2010, p.303). By the end of 5th grade, students perceive that mathematics, science, and computing is for white males (Clewell & Braddock 2000, p.90). This trend identified by Varma (2010, p.303) continues from 5th grade through to high school graduation, resulting in males and females entering university with different achievement levels in mathematics and science (Varma 2010, p.303).
Due to the differing achievement levels, males predictably had a higher confidence level and positive attitude than females (Varma 2010, p.303). Doube and Lang (2012, p. 66) found that males had a higher self-concept in STEM fields than females despite an equivalent and sometimes lower level of achievement. Females\’ low confidence level could also deter them from selecting and persisting in computing courses (Doube & Lang 2012, p.66). Vitores and Gil-Juarez (2016, p.666) found there is a decline in the number of women selecting computing and information technology (IT) degree programs across the world. Women found their teachers\’ perceptions of female students to be generally lower than those of the male students which also resulted in a decrease in self-confidence and an increase in anxiety toward their field of study (Beyer et al. 2005, p.393).
Due to insufficient training and unequal emphasis to male and female students, one significant factor for cultural reproduction is teachers being held responsible for continuing the belief that males dominate the mathematics, science and computing fields (Varma 2010, p.302) giving status to science and technology (Male, Bush & Murray 2009, p.456). Male (2010, p.462) suggests that in order to improve the retention of female engineering students, engineering administrators must investigate the existing assumed gender neutral cultures rather than making women fit the current structure. Varma (2010, p.314) suggests teachers in primary and high school need to improve their style of teaching instead of continuing the belief that females are more suited to humanities, social sciences and arts and males are suited to mathematics, sciences, and computing.
Another significant factor for cultural reproduction is the lack of significant female role models in computing which would help to change the perception of stereotypes in the field from \”geeky\” or \”nerdy\” (Varma 2010, p.303). Stereotypes such as antisocial \” geeks\” and having a career that doesn\’t require or value personal skills or a career that doesn\’t necessarily help others has been identified as a deterrent to female involvement in the computing discipline (Doube & Lang 2012, p.66). Sorby (2007, p.2) proposes that \”female role models and mentors will be important to increasing gender diversity in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics\” due to women in male-dominated professions reporting they felt threatened by negative stereotypes.
Researchers have found that 3D spatial skills such as mentally rotating objects in space are critical to success in a variety of careers, particularly in engineering and science (Sorby 2007, p.1). Several researchers have published evidence to suggest that female spatial skills are greatly behind that of a male (Sorby 2007, p.2). One theory is that spatial ability is related to a male sex hormone, however, the skill is most likely due to a number of factors such as pre-university activities requiring hand-eye coordination such as playing with construction toys, high school classes like shop/woodwork, playing computer games and sports (Sorby 2007, p.2). Sorby (2007, p.2) states that \” since most of those activities have a fairly high degree of gender bias favoring men, it is no wonder that the spatial skills of women often fall behind those of their male peers\”.
In conclusion, meritocracy is not the reason a greater number of males study the Science, Engineering, Technology and Mathematics (STEM) field over females. The lower number of females in higher education STEM enrolments could be due to teachers continuing the belief that males dominate the mathematics, science and computing fields, a lack of role models for women resulting in low confidence and anxiety in this field, stereotypes such as \”nerds\” and \”geeks\” deterring women from enrolling and gender bias with pre-university activities which don\’t allow women to develop the same skills useful to the STEM field. All of these factors could contribute toward males believing they are better suited to the STEM field, resulting in higher enrolments over females.
4102.0 – Australian Social Trends 2012, \’Education Differences between Men and Women\’, Australian Bureau of Statistics, viewed 6 October 2017, http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/[email protected]/Lookup/4102.0Main+Features20Sep+2012#HIGHER
Barnett, S 2007, \’Complex Questions Rarely Have Simple Answers\’, Psychological Science in the Public Interest, vol. 8, no. 1, pp. iii.
Doube, W & Lang, C 2012, \’Gender and Stereotypes in Motivation to Study Computer Programming for Careers in Multimedia\’, Computer Science Education, vol. 22, no. 1, pp. 63-78.
Male, S, Bush, M & Murray, K 2009, \’Think Engineer, Think Male?\’, European Journal of Engineering Education, vol. 34, no. 5, pp. 455-464.
Sorby, S 2007, \’Developing 3D Spatial Skills for Engineering Students\’, Australasian Journal of Engineering Education, vol. 13, no.1, pp. 1-12.
Varma, R 2010, \’Why So Few Women Enroll in Computing? Gender and Ethnic Differences in Students\’ Perception\’, Computer Science Education, vol. 20 no. 4, pp.301-316.
Vitores, A & Gil-Juarez, 2016, \’The Trouble with \’Women in Computer\’: a Critical Examination of the Deployment of Research on the Gender Gap in Computer Science\’, Journal of Gender Studies, vol. 25, no. 6, pp. 666-680.