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UBC Reports | Vol. 47 | No. 07 | April 5, 2001

Study suggests girls avoiding high-tech

Young women are steering clear of courses despite opportunities

by Bruce Mason staff writer

"Competence and confidence with a range of technologies is essential for full participation in our culture," says Education Assoc. Prof. Mary Bryson.

Applied technology fields are the fastest growing sectors in the Canadian economy, production, and educational curriculum development. But contrary to popular belief there is no improvement in the numbers of female students enrolled in technology-intensive courses in B.C.'s secondary schools in the past 10 years.

That is the major finding and first surprise in the Gender and Technology in B.C. Schools Study, the most comprehensive analysis of its kind.

Study researchers are sounding a warning that major curricular reforms are required.

"The evidence does not support a pattern of slow and steady change," says Bryson, one of the research team members.

In senior secondary courses, the current percentage of girls enrolled in technology-intensive courses remains extremely low and essentially unaltered despite an explicit Ministry of Education gender equity policy.

Female students who are enrolled in technology-intensive courses continue to earn more A's and B's than their male peers on average, so it's not a question of technophobia say the researchers, who include SFU Education Prof. Suzanne de Castell, UBC Curriculum Studies Assoc. Prof. Stephen Petrina and Marcia Braundy, a graduate student in UBC's Centre for the Study of Curriculum and Instruction.

In computer science and information technology courses, the participation of female students remains significantly below 50 per cent of total students enrolled, and declines precipitously as students move towards Grade 12 where the average is 20 per cent.

Boys continue to exert a pervasive predominance in technology-intensive areas in the curriculum with the exception of keyboarding, information management and clothing and textiles courses.

While total enrolments in the most popular technology courses have dropped by 13 per cent since 1987-88, the percentage of girls increased by just over two per cent. In 1987-88 the percentage of girls enrolled in Grade 11 and 12 technology courses was almost eight per cent. Currently it is 10 per cent.

The study analysed all available B.C. Ministry of Education sex-disaggregated data and contacted all B.C. secondary schools. Of 375 schools, only 13 responded to a request for information on initiatives.

The fact that girls and boys are mandated to take one applied skills course is seen as a milestone in gender relations in B.C. education history. However the result is that a vast majority of boys elect technology and girls elect business education or home economics, says Bryson.

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Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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