Hearts and Minds: Self-Esteem and the Schooling of Girls

By Jane Kenway; Sue Willis | Go to book overview

Chapter 6

Working-class Girls and Educational Outcomes: Is Self-esteem an Issue?

Johanna Wyn

For many years the educational outcomes from schooling for girls have concerned feminists, educationalists and some members of the community. Although in Australia girls have an equivalent participation rate in secondary education to boys, the quality of their schooling compared to boys' has come under question. In many schools girls' participation is different from boys. For example, 'technical drawing, computing, maths and physical sciences are male dominated at high school level' (Meeting Young Women's Needs, 1984, p. 23). This means that young women emerge from school with their options for employment already limited by the content of their school courses. Young women also have a lower participation rate in post-school training, further limiting their options for employment.

Occupational segregation in Australia reflects these differences in the form of gender divisions. In 1984, 64 per cent of female employees were concentrated in three major occupational groupings (clerical, sales and service), characterized by low pay, low status and few possibilities for career opportunities (Sawer, 1985, p. xiv). As this pattern of occupational segmentation continued into the late 1980s, many sought to alter the pattern by intervening in schooling practices. The processes that lead to differential outcomes from schooling have come under scrutiny, in particular, discrimination against girls.

Over the last decade the complexities of the situation have become more apparent. Early assumptions about objectives and strategies for change have been undermined by the persistence of occupational segregation (O'Donnell, 1984) and the apparent determination of many girls and women to place a continuing priority on relationships and domestic concerns (Connell et al., 1982, Wilson and Wyn, 1987). What has emerged is a picture of the ways in which class, gender, race and ethnicity interrelate in shaping the educational and social outcomes of girls and

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