In Two Different Worlds: How Malawian Girls Experience Schooling

By Mbilizi, Margaret Asalele | Journal of International Women's Studies, May 2008 | Go to article overview

In Two Different Worlds: How Malawian Girls Experience Schooling


Mbilizi, Margaret Asalele, Journal of International Women's Studies


Abstract

This paper reports on a qualitative case study of how Malawian girls experience schooling in single-sex versus coeducational institutions. It is a qualitative narrative depicting the socializing and learning processes which affect girls' potential to succeed in mathematics and science subjects and careers. Further I use critical reflection to describe my own experiences as a student, teacher, and researcher at one of the single-sex boarding schools.

The results confirm other research findings that single-sex school environments are effective in building high expectations and aspirations for higher education among girls. In single-sex schools, girls held higher educational expectations and occupational aspirations for non traditional careers than girls in coeducational schools. In coeducational schools girls' abilities were marginalized by school administrators, teachers, and boys. Girls were seen as a distraction to the boys and faced sexual abuse and pressure to attend to their physical appearance. The paper advocates for the expansion of single-sex boarding schools for girls, group cohesion among girls in coeducational schools, gender streaming of math and science classes, gender equity training for teachers, and the increased practice of gender fair teaching.

Keywords: gender equity, girls' education, qualitative research.

Introduction

Even though globally women continue to make gains in education and employment, much still remains to be accomplished before real gender equity and equality is achieved. Women and girls are still underrepresented in Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics programs, and get lower scores on standardized tests (National Science Foundation, 2007). Vocational programs continue to direct women into traditionally female training programs, resulting in low paying jobs. The exclusion of female students from science subjects, athletic scholarships, leadership positions, and the prevalence of sexual abuse, harassment, and bullying in schools and college campuses all add up to slow the process of achieving gender equity in education (American Association of University Women, 2007).

Historically the social and economic outcomes of women's education are shaped by gender systems that place women in a subordinate position to men (Lorber, 2005). Schools contribute to gender systems either through denial of access or the kind of education provided to men and women. The extent to which education is made available and is equal in terms of quality, quantity, and content is predicative of future social and economic benefits of schooling (Kelly & Elliot, 1982). Many scholars have argued that schools serve as instruments of social and structural reproduction (Apple, 1979, Anyon, 1983, Whitty, 1985, Wolpe, 1981, Kelly & Nihlen, 1982, Giroux, 1983, Althuser, 1971, Bowles & Gintis, 1976, Bourdieu, 1977). A growing body of research shows that the shortage of women in male dominated occupations is not due to lack of access or relevant intellectual ability (Jacobs, 1989). Throughout the primary school years, girls and boys maintain equal achievement levels in mathematics and science subjects. Some educators even argue that girls have a developmental edge over boys from birth. They score higher on standardized tests and are generally more mature and readier to learn than boys (Mann, 1996). But then something happens as they progress through the school ladder. By the time they leave secondary school, their scores on standardized tests are lower than boys'. In particular, boys' average performance in math and science subjects becomes higher than that of girls. Even boys' opinions of themselves and their future become higher than those of girls. It is apparent that schooling plays a significant role in perpetuating traditional gender role socialization (Sadker & Sadker, 1994).

Unequal educational attainment is closely linked to the type of school a student attends (Mallam, 1993, Orenstein, 1994). …

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