Investigating female secondary school science teachers’ experiences and views on gender and science

Background to study

Although South Africa has made significant strides in the effort to achieve gender equity in education, women and Africans continue to remain underrepresented in the fields of science, engineering and technology. This can be traced back to their low levels of participation and performance in school science and mathematics. While a number of policies have been introduced and resources have been channeled to the previously disadvantaged schools, the quality of mathematics and science education has not shown any significant improvement. Statistics show while there are more girls in secondary and high schools in South Africa than there are boys and while more sit for science and mathematics matric examinations, their performance in these subjects is poorer than that of boys. Data on student enrolment by gender at tertiary institutions also shows that fewer females enroll for science and technology related courses. In 2010 females made up only 38% of students enrolled in science, engineering and technology at tertiary institutions, with a high number enrolled in education and health sciences (HEMIS, 2010 ). This seems to suggest that even the few female learners who pass school science and mathematics do not take up science and technology at tertiary level.

The small pool from which to attract potential candidates to fields of science, engineering and technology, including teaching, is cited as the main reason why South Africa has so few engineers. In 2009 South Africa had just under 15 000 registered professional engineers; 8% of those were black, and only 2% were female (ASAAF, 2009) Given this poor state of science and mathematics education, the scarcity of science and mathematics teachers is not surprising, considering the poor status of teaching in the country and the competition with the private sector, which can afford to pay salaries that are higher than what government pays teachers. While the low uptake of science, engineering and technology is clearly a result of poor performance of learners, gender differences suggest that the problem may not just be limited to performance. Research from developed countries has shown that girls, even those who perform well in science and mathematics, and are as capable as boys, do not choose science related careers. This study is premised on the notion that in addition to improving the qualifications and competence of teachers and providing physical resources in South Africa, there is a need to look at the other factors that might be turning learners in general and female learners in particular, away from science . While a lot of research has been conducted on gender in education in South Africa, and on poor performance in science and mathematics education, not much focus has been paid to issues of gender in science and mathematics education. The purpose of this study is to explore female secondary school science teachers’ personal and professional experiences as learners and teachers of science. The study aims to gain a better understanding of the views and perceptions of selected science female teachers, related to gender and participation in science.

Research Questions

This study seeks to answer the following research questions:

  • How do female science teachers perceive their educational experiences in science and mathematics?
  • How do female science teachers view the role gender has played in their personal and professional lives as science learners and teachers?
  • What do female science teachers say about how their educational experiences influenced their academic and career choices?
  • What are female science teachers’ views and beliefs about gender in science education?

Objectives of the study

The study aims to achieve the following objectives:

  • To explore female science teachers’ experiences of school and university science
  • To explore the role female science teachers believe gender has played in their academic and professional lives
  • To examine how female science teachers’ educational experiences influenced their career choices.
  • To explore female science teachers’ beliefs and views about gender in science and mathematics education
  • To sensitize female science teachers about issues of gender in science and mathematics education

Participants

Purposive sampling was used, where twenty (20) female secondary school science teachers in the Umgungundlovu District in Kwa-Zulu Natal were selected to participate in the study. Practicing properly qualified female secondary school teachers of physical science, natural science and life science will be selected from a pool of teachers in the Umgungundlovu District in Pietermaritzburg. Participants were identified and recruited with the help of Subject advisors (Curriculum Implementers) in the Umgungundlovu District as well as through primary contacts. Interviews are in progress and two Masters students are part of the project.