Gender and perceptions of science and science education: a case study in Mitchells Plain
Gasant, Mogamad Waheeb
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The literature on the manner in which gender influences the participation and performance of girls and boys in science and science education indicates that the disparity between the genders, in favour of boys, persists. This has negatively affected the participation rates of women in tertiary science education and the science workplace. Gender inequality, an outcome of socio-cultural relations, is regarded as being at the root of this disparity. Science is regarded as a male domain; a feminist analysis has viewed the position of women in science as emanating from a history of the oppression of women in male-dominated society. Through socialisation and cultural practices, society encourages the development of binaristic, gendered norms and roles: a fertile environment for the perpetuation of the gender role stereotypes portraying boys as more science-orientated than girls. Schools are regarded as prime sites for the perpetuation of gender inequalities. The sociocultural perceptions that educators and learners alike bring into science classrooms influence their thinking about gender in science and science education. The interactive social milieu of the classroom is viewed as the crucible where attitudes to, beliefs in and perceptions of the role of gender in science are shaped. In addition, the media functions as a socio-cultural agent, both in its popular form and as a source of resource material for science teaching. The masculine image of science and scientists it persistently promotes influences girls’ and boys’ attitudes to, beliefs in and perceptions of science and science education. The study examines gender and the perceptions of science and science education of boy and girl learners in the General Education and Training (GET) phase of education i.e. Grades 7 to 9. The research methodology comprised both quantitative and qualitative methods. The quantitative study entailed conducting a survey of six hundred Grades 7, 8 and 9 boy and girl learners in an English medium school. A small sample of 26 learners was randomly selected from each of the Grades 7, 8 and 9 for semi-structured, in-depth, individual interviews. Age, grade and gender were the selection criteria. All participant schools are situated in an educational district in Mitchells Plain, Cape Town, South Africa: the majority of residents in the suburb are from the lower middle class and were classified Coloured according to the Apartheid racial classification. The educators administering the qualitative, semi-structured, in-depth interviews were also drawn from this group. The findings confirmed that gender role stereotypes persist in science and science education. Girls are drawn to affective science pursuits whereas boys are firmly rooted to stereotypical perceptions of the masculine image of science and science careers. It is apparent that girls are challenging sex-role stereotypes in science and agitating for gender equity in science education and science careers.