[In Grade 9] I bid farewell to almost all of my female classmates and chose math, physics and chemistry as part of my high school matriculation. What stopped all those clever young girls from taking the same subjects as me? I assumed they were not joining me in math because they believed they had a predetermined destiny. They assumed they would not succeed in these subjects before they even tried.

Gender stereotypes still shape the career expectations of most young people. A 1986 study demonstrated that although girls believed in the future participation of women in predominantly masculine professions, their individual career choices did not reflect that belief. Most of the girls seemed to be saying, "Yes, women can become doctors, but I expect to be a nurse " (Women's Bureau of Labour Canada, 1986).

A 1990 study by the Canadian Teachers' Federation found that girls believe they are much more job and career-oriented than in previous generations. Four in five of the girls surveyed were thinking about and planning for the future, and 91 percent believed that women today have just as good a chance of having a successful career as men (Robertson, 1990).

I recall some 20 years ago asking one student with a 95 percent [average] in my Grade 12 Algebra course, what her plans were. She planned on being a nurse. I asked if she had considered being a doctor, and got only a puzzled look in return. In my latest survey last month, the female students told me they were planning careers in engineering, dentistry, and architecture (Kathleen Antrobus, Campbell Collegiate, Regina, Prairie Region Forum).

Another 1990 study also showed that young women want a broad range of professional and challenging occupations, but many still expect to end up in traditional jobs like nursing and hairdressing. Rather than go to university, they enter vocational school (Day, 1990).

A major study conducted in the United States goes one step further. Shortchanging Girls, Shortchanging America connects self-esteem, educational experiences, interest in math and science, and career aspirations of girls and boys ages nine to 15 (Greenberg-Lake, 1990). The research found that more boys than girls enter adolescence with high self-esteem, and many more young men than young women leave adolescence with high self-esteem. Interests in mathematics and science were also linked to preferences for certain occupations: students who like math and science are more likely to aspire to careers as professionals.

A review of the literature on girls' career choices concludes that girls are most likely to consider entering a non-traditional field before age 13 but are thinking traditionally again by the time they are aged 16 to 18 and have completed high school (McLaughlin, 1990).

We do not know enough about what happens to girls between the ages of 13 and 18 when they are making decisions about high school courses, university programs and careers. A greater understanding is needed of the barriers inhibiting women from developing interests and talents in mathematics and science; the intellectual bases of mathematics and scientific disciplines; and the interface of science, technology and engineering with the human science. More research data are required to revise. curriculum, reorganize schools and classrooms, determine more effective teaching methods, and improve existing school counselling techniques. Strategies to disseminate findings to classroom teachers and to help teachers apply findings should also be developed.

In the meantime, educators should empower young women to fully develop self-esteem through significant and appropriate learning experiences in elementary and secondary school. Teachers, especially those who teach science and mathematics, and guidance and career counsellors can play an essential role by encouraging young women to consider career choices that match their skills and interests. They can also help keep young women from opting automatically for traditionally female careers such as nursing, teaching, hairdressing, clerical and secretarial work.

Education equity

Gender equity is the provision of equality of opportunity and the realization of equality of results for all students based on individual aptitudes, abilities and interests, regardless of gender (Ev Burnett, Saskatchewan Education, Prairie Region Forum).

At all our public forums, the CCWE heard that some teachers treat girls "differently" than boys and that this treatment affects girls' participation in mathematics and science. Boys and girls are often assigned different classroom tasks that reflect stereotypical views of the roles of the genders. Boys are disciplined more frequently and more harshly by teachers than are girls, even when they misbehave in identical ways. During classroom instruction, boys receive more attention of all types from teachers than do girls. While boys receive more encouragement to use higher-level questioning and reasoning, girls receive more encouragement to be quiet and passive. Even written achievement tests may contain a male bias: the content may reflect the experiences and interests of boys more than it. reflects the experiences and interests of girls (Burnett, Prairie Region Forum).

Teaching equity to teachers

Equity programs are not like measles vaccines where one shot suffices for life. These programs need to be ongoing and not peripheral to the mainstream curriculum (Shelley Beauchamp, Women Inventors Project, Ontario Forum).

By providing a compulsory course on education equity, faculties of education can encourage future teachers to give all students equal opportunity to learn, participate and contribute in the classroom. In-service courses on equity issues should be made available to current teachers through continuing education programs such as workshops, seminars, summer institutes, teleconferencing, community cable television, and credit courses.

Awareness of gender inequities and the long-term consequences is especially important for teachers of mathematics and science because these are perceived as masculine subjects. It is important that professors who teach mathematics and science subjects to education students be aware of the need to incorporate gender equity into their courses. Awareness involves self-knowledge; teachers need to be conscious of and understand their own stereotypical attitudes before they can change their behaviour towards their students. Teachers who understand gender differences in learning and development will help girls and women learn new ways of thinking about themselves.

Some of the most equity-conscious--and successful--teachers we know struggle continuously to put away old scripts and old expectations. Awareness is the first step (Mac Sudduth, Science World, West Coast Forum).

Faculties of education should also introduce education students to alternative teaching and evaluation styles that recognize the diversity of attitudes, talents and perspectives of men and women students. Teachers also need opportunities to practise and receive coaching on positive teaching approaches that have been shown to be effective with women students.

Physical science teachers, most of whom are men, delight in telling their class how hard the subject is. They point out the high failure rates and they emphasize the competitiveness by pointing out that only half the class will make it (Catherine Gillbert, Champlain Regional College, Montreal Forum).

Because of their socialization, girls and young women tend to have different learning styles than boys and young men. Girls are often more comfortable in a co-operative learning environment that is not highly competitive. A 1990 study by the Canadian Teachers' Federation found that girls and young women believe that many current educational methods fail to hear their perspectives or to focus on their unique strength (Robertson, 1990). The study recommended that educational materials stress the value of interactive teaching methods.

[Teachers should be prepared to] introduce topics, content, and process in classrooms to address the concerns, needs and interests of both girls and boys, for example, personal stories written by and about 'successful' women. As well, the context for this information should be provided, to make each gender group more sensitive to the other (Ruth Rees, Faculty of Education, Queen's University, CCWE Conference).

Gender-sensitive materials

In recent years, publishers have made efforts to make educational materials more gender-equitable, to portray both genders in a wide variety of roles and to use language which includes both genders and gives them equal status. However, many stereotyped materials are still on the market (Ev Burnett, Saskatchewan Education, Prairie Region Forum).

Children's attitudes toward the roles of women and men are influenced by what they read and see in school textbooks. Unfortunately, many teachers may be unaware of the importance of using textbooks that use gender-inclusive language and portray women and men in non-traditional roles. It is important that teachers learn to identify and present materials that are gender-inclusive. They also need materials and methods to help evaluate, select and devise curriculum materials that support and encourage women students. Provincial departments of education and others responsible for selecting and approving instructional materials should ensure that freedom from gender bias is an essential criterion of acceptability; authors and publishers of textbooks who have eliminated gender stereotyping in course materials and textbooks should be recognized and promoted.


2. The CCWE recommends that educators empower young women to fully develop self-esteem through significant and appropriate learning experiences in elementary and secondary school.

3. The CCWE recommends that faculties of education include the study of equity issues, gender stereotyping and gender differences in teacher education programs so that all students have equal opportunities for learning, participating and contributing in the classroom.

Schedule for success: