Article inspired by Kathy Hafner's "Girls
soak up technology in schools of their own"
(September 23, 1999) appeared at The New York Times on the Web -Learning
Throughout the United States there are
about a hundred all-girls schools, some of which started as far
as 1907 but all of which are on the rise today.
The main aims of such girls-only schools
is to turn around the stereotype that women do not belong in the
scientific and technical fields.
Evidence proves that there exists a considerable
gap between the sexes in the way they approach scientific matters.
This gender gap problem becomes fully evident in adolescence. As
puberty takes hold, girls begin to lose their self-confidence. Far
from decreasing, the problem persists through higher education and
into the workplace. Whereas women make up almost half the country's
work force, they account for only 22 % of scientists and engineers.
Among the main reasons that account for
this phenomenon, education experts say that some teachers discourage
girls in subtle ways like for instance failing to call on them in
class as frequently as they call on boys. Ann Clarke, the Julia
Morgan's School's director and veteran educator says that boys and
girls are very different in the way they approach classroom tasks
and problems. "Sometimes the boys are quicker to want to get
to the answer"- she says. "There's a different energy
around girls. Boys do more things in spurts".
Proponents of single-sex education say
that in a single-sex environment girls receive encouragement for
what they do rather for how they look. In places such as Julia Morgan's
School for girls, students are encouraged to take a turn at the
blackboard, explain how they arrived at the answer to a tricky problem,
discuss lively and cooperate in groupwork. Besides, these all-girls
schools are well-equipped with the latest computer resources. A
lot of the girls have similar facilities at home or, if they don't,
the school welcomes donations from well-wishers for them. Old computers
given to schools as gifts can also be used by students to take all
the pieces apart to see how the system works.
Moreover curriculums in these schools place
emphasis on collaborative learning approaches, programming courses,
science, maths, technology and they also include languages, sports,
drama or, even, yoga.
Some successes are irrefutable. "Castilleja",
a girls' school in Palo Alto (California) took 1st and 3rd place
in the robotics competition at Nasa's Ames Research Center. There
are also low-key successes like "the engineering night for
parents" at the Girls' Middle School. During that evening students
show off the bridges and roads they have constructed and they have
a blast explaining science to adults.
However, it is not clear that single-sex
education is itself the solution. Some experts say that in order
to make girls interested in maths, science and technology, one needs
to improve present-day teaching methods. Professor Marcia Linn,
from the University of California at Berkeley is in favour of making
teaching methods change so that they become effective for everyone:
boys and girls. The key to success seems to be making science personally
relevant to students' life day after day. Maybe families themselves
can make their own contribution in achieving sex equality.