Academic journal article Gender & Behaviour

Senior High School Female Students' Interest in Physics as a Course of Study at the University Level in Ghana

Academic journal article Gender & Behaviour

Senior High School Female Students' Interest in Physics as a Course of Study at the University Level in Ghana

Article excerpt

Abstract

The study of females' interest in physics is an issue of international concern. Of the sciences, physics is the subject in which the increase in the number of females involved has been particularly low. The term 'interest' may usually refers to preference to engage in some types of activities rather than others. This study investigated whether Ghanaian Senior High School female science students would prefer to study physics at the university or not and the reasons for their choice. Two hundred and one final year female students in four Senior High Schools offering biology, chemistiy and physics in the Cape Coast Metropolis of the Central Region of Ghana, participated in the study. Data was obtained with Questionnaire on Female Participation in Physics and Interview Protocol, administered to the female students. The findings from the study suggest that female students do not prefer physics as a course of study at the university level due to limited career opportunities in the subject. An implication from this study is that female enrolment in physics will not improve unless information about career awareness in the subject is made available to students. Serious efforts must be made by physics educators as well as Physics Departments to create awareness of career opportunities in the study of physics.

Introduction

Physics plays a key role in understanding the world we live in, and physicists contribute strongly to the welfare and economic development of nations. The knowledge and problem-solving skills of physicists are essential in many professions and industries and to society at large. To thrive in today's fast-changing, technological world, eveiy countiy must achieve a highly educated population in physics, fully engaged in making decisions important to their well being (International Union of Pure and Applied Physics [IUPAP], 2002). Also, knowledge of physics is an important part of general literacy for eveiy citizen.

However, professional studies of engineering, architecture, astronomy and physics are dramatically underrepresented by females (Donnellan, 2003). While females represent over half the general population worldwide, they represent only a tiny minority of professionals in physics with majority going into biology. Histoiy has it that this imbalance was thought to be the result of differing brain structures and functions (Baird, 1996). However, explanations based on gender-specific socialization have largely displaced the brain difference model. Theories of Socialization hold that females are directed away from physics studies/courses by parents, teachers, and peers (male and female) because such studies are considered to be unfeminine (Baird, 1996). Such theories as reported by Baird further argue that females themselves select out of physics courses because the careers involved in those fields do not match the careers with which girls are encouraged to be concerned.

The literature shows that high school and college teachers are generally aware of low female participation in physics courses and the growth of this low participation at higher levels of study (Baird, 1997; Laura, 2005). According to Baird (1997), high school and college teachers assign a number of reasons to low female participation in physics courses. Among them are:

(a) Societal and cultural influences

(b) Lack of female role models

(c) The "Old Boys Club" aspect of physics

(d) Discouragement from parents, counselors and teachers

(e) Lack of interest in physics

(f) Lack of confidence in physics

(g) Aptitude, ability or brain differences

A study conducted by Laura (2006) on "Why Are There So Few Female Physicists" identified some of the problems specific to females in the study of physics. According to Laura, many female students do not receive the same level of mathematics instruction as their male peers, and thus do not have the same foundation to study physics. …

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