Girls and No Power
In Russia, only half as many girls as boys choose physics and computer science for their final school exam. It all starts with elementary school teachers.
Something more girlish
"Next Monday kids will start new afterschool activities, free of charge and very interesting."
My daughter’s teacher was full of energy and enthusiasm at the parents’ meeting at the first grade of our school #127 in Samara.
"Boys will attend the aeromodelling class, and girls, well, I don’t know yet. Maybe knitting or some weaving or origami. There are a lot of classes."
Parents kept silence. I raised my hand. "Sasha will attend aeromodelling."
"Why?!", the teacher exclaimed. "Let’s find something more girlish for her."
The teacher is a good and kind woman who wants all the children in her class to flourish.
She just used to treat the kids as girls and boys who behave differently and have different needs.
I live in Samara, Russia, quite a big city with a population of 1 million people. There are two aerospace production sites and technical universities here, and dozens of software companies with a lot of well-paid IT jobs. The society is far from patriarchal with a rising divorce rate and university degrees rate higher than Russia’s average. And yet the share of young women was only 18% of 2018 computer science freshmen in Samara National Research University.
The share of girls was only 27% of 2018 school graduates from Samara Region who chose physics for their final school exam, and 25% of those who chose computer science. It’s an average rate for Russia.
Not only for Russia. Only 20% of pupils who attend physics A-level in England's schools are girls, according to the Institute of Physics (IoP).
In Russia, the unified state exam is mandatory for all school graduates who want to go to university. There are two obligated subjects, Russian language, and math (basic or advanced), and up to three elective subjects depending on the faculty the pupil wants to apply. Computer science faculties demand advanced math and computer science (CS is a part of a standard middle and high school curriculum), and aerospace faculties require advanced math and physics.
Girls' physics scores are the same as boys'. Then why don't girls elect the exam?
Puppies vs. Robots
School exams begin in ninth grade, but we can follow some other school activities and competition back to the elementary school.
It starts with the science fairs. They are not mandatory in most schools, but in a big city like Samara, they can gather up to 1 thousand of participants.
Kids show the result of their research on such topics as pets, fairy tales, nature, sports. Parents help children as the projects require a lot of work. More often the teacher suggests the list of topics and parents choose the one that resonates with their kid interests.
I analyzed the research topics of the 2016' “First steps in Science” fair in Samara to find out what topics girls and boys chose.
The numbers of boys and girls taking part in the fair are equal, but the shares depend on the subject. Math section has two boys for every one girl. Girls are the fourth of the physics section participants, and only the sixth for the robots and coding. The shares change dramatically in pets, plants, nature sections where girls outnumber boys. “The Butterfly Birth Mystery” or “The Wonderful Bees” are girl topics, and “Logical Tasks Models” or “The Mystery of The Chess World” are boys’ topics.
The girls’ shares in math, physics, and computer science (CS) sections increase as they start to choose the topics for their research independently.
The lists of the 2017' “I, Researcher” Samara school conference for the 5-7 grades show the equal shares of girls and boys in the math section. Girls are the third of the CS and physics section.
In high school, the olympiads start. Leading universities consider the results of the most prominent competitions as exams and can accept the students depending on their olympiad rates.
In Samara, the All-Russian School Olympiad regional stage gathers up to 2 thousand pupils from 9 to 11 grades every year. Every year there is a girl who wins in math, astronomy, or physics, but in 2017 the girls were only the third of the math section participants and the fourth of the physics section. The CS was even worse as there was the only tenth of girls. And all those girls were from big cities. The country girls didn’t’ take part in CS olympiads in 2017.
The share of girls in school SC exams decreases year after year, but the rate of the girls who choose biology and chemistry increases, Russian Federal Education Supervision Agency says. Let’s get back to the elementary school and praise the teachers who suggest the life of butterflies for the girls’ research, and the history of chess for the boys’. They may triumph.
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