Gender Differences in High School Science in Israel, Article Critique Example

Tamir, P. (1988). Gender differences in high school science in Israel. British Educational Research Journal, Taylor & Francis, Ltd. on behalf of BERA, 14(2), pp. 127-140. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/1500965.pdf

The introduction to this article aptly summarized its major focus relating to the differences between male and female students regarding achievement in various fields of science associated with education and sex roles, particularly, the specific difficulties of girls pertaining to science education. The study mentions confirmed conclusions of previous work, namely that male children are seen as having more interest and aptitude in science-related studies and careers. As children become older, these differences between genders become magnified, being smallest at age ten and largest by age 17 (Tamir, 1988). This finding has been duplicated in more recent studies, where it has been found that in high school, boys continue to perform at higher rates than girls with regards to science accomplishment (Information Sheet: Gender Differences in Science Achievement, 2009). The article also acknowledges that, while there have indeed been differences between the sexes in relation to science, these differences are not uniform. For example, in several studies, it was found that boys had more interest and ability in certain sciences, such as chemistry and physics, but not in biology, where the differences were either minimal or heavily tilted in favor of the girls’ abilities and interests.

The article examined several variables in looking at the differences between boys and girls and their academic achievements in science and mathematics (Tamir, 1988). For example, the role that socioeconomic status plays in the preferences for science education was rarely considered in previous work. An interesting point was made regarding the type of questions asked to measure aptitude differences between boys and girls when it comes to science ability. Some researchers found that boys tended to perform more successfully when answering multiple-choice questions than girls (Tamir, 1988). The factors that were considered in understanding the differences between boys and girls in this study included: gender differences between subject choice in high school, academic achievement in biology, chemistry, and physics, attitudes regarding science, comprehension of science and its vast range of areas, cognitive preferences, socioeconomic status, feelings about school, learning, and specifically science learning, and students’ perceptions of their own academic success in science and math (Tamir, 1988).

The article also clearly described the method used to conduct the research, which consisted of a questionnaire used to collect information on the students’ home and school environments, and five achievement tests that differed in format (Tamir, 1988). The subjects studied were made up of an entirely Jewish population of high school seniors that included both science and non-science majors (Tamir, 1988). The results indicated that the girls outscored the boys as non-science or biology majors, with the boys outscoring the girls in physics (Tamir, 1988). The number of girls versus boys choosing chemistry as a major was virtually identical however, when it came to achievement scores, in general, boys outscored girls in physics, although in chemistry, there was no statistically significant difference in achievement between the sexes (Tamir, 1988). Conversely, in biology, while boys excelled in knowledge, girls excelled in the application of the material and even when measuring the results of non-science majors, boys tended to outscore the girls in science ability (Tamir, 1988).

The article summarized that boys tend to have a more positive attitude towards science than girls; they feel that science is more important to them personally and to society as a whole, and their belief is supported in later years by their career choices (Tamir, 1988). Continued gender differences were found to exist regarding the boys’ more positive attitudes towards the study of science, as well as the girls’ more positive attitude towards school learning, and their interest in studying biology that included laboratory work (Tamir, 1988). However, in areas like the level of understanding of the nature of science and preferences for the processing of information, or learning style, there were virtually no differences between the genders (Tamir, 1988). Socioeconomic status, which was included in the variables examined, was not found to play a role in gender differences pertaining to science and math learning (Tamir, 1988).

The evidence presented in this study as described by the article does support the central thesis in part, particularly when it comes to science, and there are significant gender differences relating to students’ interest, attitudes, and abilities (Tamir, 1988). The main exception to this phenomenon involves biology, where girls demonstrated an interest in and ability to succeed in pursuing the field (Tamir, 1988). This result can possibly be understood by looking at other studies, in one of which it was found that even when females planned to major in science, they were most interested in the people-oriented aspects of their area of study; females’ lack of interest in studying science contained one exception: biology (Miller, 2006.). In that study, females frequently decided to major in science because they needed that background in order to pursue a career in the healthcare industry (Miller, 2006.). Just as in the study described by Tamir (1988), it was established that in general, the girls studied felt that science was uninteresting and that the lifestyle that it would lead to was undesirable.

Statistical analysis using SPSS was the primary method of analysis used by Tamir (1988), presenting the relevant data in charts for easier analysis. The scores are broken down into relevant disciplines and presented in their cumulative values (Tamir, 1988). The differences between the overall attitudes of boys and girls are also presented in the form of a statistical analysis, showing that there is only a slight difference in the attitudes (Tamir, 1988). Background details are also examined statistically and presented in an ANOVA chart, detailing the precise delineations of the experiences in these subjects for boys and girls (Tamir, 1988). The ambitions for further educational pursuits was detailed and specified the incidences of both genders intending to pursue careers that would rely on scientific or mathematical knowledge (Tamir, 1988).

The research statistically represents the results of variables like achievement of boys and girls in Science Test 3M, achievement of boys and girls in physics the whole sample versus physics majors, achievement of boys and girls in Biology Test 3B, achievement of boys and girls in Science Test 3N, boys and girls attitudes toward science and understanding the nature of science, background and personal differences between boys and girls, and future study and career choices of boys and girls (Tamir, 1988).  For each independent analysis, Tamir (1988) also discusses the relevant occurrences within each data set.  This presents a more comprehensive view of the actual variances between the perceptions and achievements of each gender in specific areas rather than the sweeping fields of science or mathematics as a whole. There is also consideration given for any differentiations in the cognitive abilities of the participants and the impact such divergences may have on the overall estimations derived at through the examination.

Although the differences between the results for girls and boys in many instances are slight, there remains a large gap in the real numbers of males and females that actually occupy these fields. The inference is that there is a general disinterest for females regarding certain sciences and math, but this is an area that requires additional study in order to be certain these assumptions are correct. it is also inferred that boys excel in application of all sciences when, in fact, girls outscored boys in application of genetics and a few other sciences (Tamir, 1988). Overall, the achievement test results showed that boys excel in physics, as well as in all applications of other sciences except for biology (Tamir, 1988). There were no differences in achievement between genders in chemistry among students who were majoring in one of the sciences (Tamir, 1988).

Although boys and girls who majored in biology performed equally well, the girls tended to do better in application of the material (Tamir, 1988). Another conclusion that was somewhat concerning was that non-science major’s graduate from school essentially illiterate when it comes to elementary scientific knowledge, especially the girls (Tamir, 1988). Since on average, girls do better in school academically than boys, why there is a shortage of women in the fields of science, math, engineering and technical careers remains a puzzle (Blume, 2009).

The achievement test results showed that boys excel in physics, as well as in all applications of other sciences except for biology. There were no differences in achievement between genders in chemistry among students who were majoring in one of the sciences. Although in general, boys and girls who majored in biology performed equally well, the girls tended to do better in application of the material. Another conclusion that was somewhat concerning was that non-science major’s graduate from school essentially illiterate when it comes to elementary scientific knowledge, especially the girls. Since on average, girls do better in school academically than boys, it remains to be understood why there is a shortage of women in the fields of science, math, engineering and technical careers (Blume, 2009).

The conclusions of the study by Tamir (1988) were that while girls typically are less interested than boys in studying science, understanding science learning, and are less likely to continue to study science when they go on to university, they have positive attitudes towards learning, find school more interesting than the boys, and spend more time and effort doing homework (Tamir, 1988). On the other hand, more boys studied physics in high school, were more skilled at applying the major concepts of physics, and were found to be more likely to aspire to careers in scientific research and engineering. Interestingly, though, females are more inclined to have an interest in biology and to major in biology in high school, and are more skilled at applying major concepts in biology, choosing to pursue careers in medicine (Tamir, 1988). This contradicted to some degree a study which found that there were no significant differences between girls and boys in attitudes towards biology, although the females showed better achievements in the subject compared to boys (Nasr, 2011).

The author concludes that the results of the study underscore the importance of attracting females into the study of science when they are juniors and seniors in high school; the very low interest in and performance of girls in the area of physics, as opposed to their willingness to study chemistry and biology, was found to be puzzling and a worthwhile area for future study. The most important conclusion found, according to Tamir (1988) was that, considering most variables studied, there were no significant gender differences, so that except for physics, in the Israeli study there was no bias against females, making it especially concerning that so few females go on to pursue careers in science. In addition, the study results underscored concerns about the students who did not study science after the tenth grade, because those students, especially the girls, beginning their adult lives in society extremely lacking in science literacy, skills that are certainly necessary to achieve at least a minimally successful life.

When non-science majors were studied in this report, the girls’ test results demonstrated an even wider gap from the boys’. However, the decades that have passed since this study was conducted brings to fore the question of how different the results would be if the exact same population was studied in more modern times. Furthermore, research on physicians in the United States divided by gender shows that the males outnumbered the females by a ratio of more than two to one (Distribution of Physicians by Gender, 2011). More surprisingly, this ratio was essentially unchanged from the male-female physician ratio since 1988 (Ellsbury, 2000).

The inclusion of socioeconomic status and its possible impact on results in the research gave the study a more realistic viewpoint and heightened the believability of the repeatability of the results. Even though it was not found to carry any significant weight in this study, it would seem that future studies should certainly continue to look at socioeconomic status and female students’ attitudes towards science and math. It is possible that different social classes and ethnic groups would tend to encourage their daughters to pursue different sorts of careers, so that the goal of becoming a doctor, which would necessitate pursuing a background in science, could be more encouraged and supported by families whose members already consist of people in the medical profession. For example, a long-held stereotypical belief about Jewish families is that they encourage their sons to become doctors. This study supports that phenomenon to some degree, but the indication that the female students excelled in biology and conceivably went on to pursue careers in medicine would be worth studying further.

 

References

Blume, M. Z. (2009). Gender and Academic Achievement. Retrieved from Education.com: http://www.education.com/reference/article/gender-academic-achievement/

Distribution of Physicians by Gender, November, 2011. (2011, November). Retrieved from statehealthfacts.org: http://www.statehealthfacts.org/comparetable.jsp?ind=430&cat=8

Ellsbury, M. D. (2000). U.S.  Medical Schools in the World Family Physician Gender Gap. Family Medicine, pp.331-337.

Information Sheet: Gender Differences in Science Achievement. (2009). Retrieved from Assessing Women and Men in Engineering:  HYPERLINK “http://www.engr.psu.edu/awe/misc/ARPs/ARP_InfoSheet_Science.pdf” http://www.engr.psu.edu/awe/misc/ARPs/ARP_InfoSheet_Science.pdf

Nasr, A. (2011, October). Attitude Towards Biology and Its Effects on Student Achievement. Retrieved from Academia.edu: http://uk.academia.edu/AsgharSoltani/Papers/179877/Attitude_towards_Biology_and_its_Effects_on_Students_Achievement

Patricia Miller, J. B. (2006). Gender Differences in High School Students’ Views about Science. International Journal of Science Education, pp.363-381.

Tamir, P. (1988). Gender Differences in High School Science in Israel. British Educational Research Journal, 14(2), pp.127-140.