Education should be about providing everyone with the skills required, to pursue a life they choose.
Even though females are more likely to complete school (85% compared to 79% of boys) and attain a university degree (39% compared with 27% of men), this ‘success’ in the classroom doesn’t seem to translate into equality of opportunity in adult life.
Now let’s think about this for a moment. If I use my own daughter as a point of reference, I regularly hear her say that she literally just delivers exactly what is ‘expected’ from her in terms of how things need to be presented, a set formula if you will and a ‘skill’ that results in her consistently receiving the forever elusive ‘A’s that most people struggle to achieve. On paper, she’s amazing, intelligent, top of the class, and capable, so that must mean she loves learning, right?
In fact, if you ask her, it has the opposite effect. She doesn’t feel challenged, she just feels like she’s, if anything, paying lip service to the system. She certainly isn’t enjoying the process either.
I’m not saying my daughter isn’t clever, because clearly, she is. She’s worked out how to get the top marks with very little stress or effort. What worries me though, is that her ability to retain information and then put it into practice down the track might be considerably hindered by this seemingly foolproof approach she’s stumbled across. Which could be one theory as to why boys go on to ‘do better’ down the track. Their ability to thrive better ‘outside’ the system, maybe?
Another theory could be down to slowly declining levels of confidence and self-belief during those fateful ‘middle’ years which, sadly, continues along the same trajectory over the next few years until they find themselves finished with University, looking for a job, and just not backing themselves in the same way they would have during the early years of school. Males on the other hand seem to go from strength to strength.
I think, as women, we need to take responsibility for these outcomes, as we consistently self-select ourselves out of the ‘game’ by choosing lower-paid careers in nursing, education, childcare, and humanities, while men plump for positions in IT and Engineering where the big bucks are.
So how do we teach our daughters to not be quite so ‘self-sacrificing’ without turning them into the next generation of Maggie Thatchers and even then, is that enough given the very real reality of the ‘gender pay gap’, interrupted careers (baby-raising) and fewer leadership opportunities?