Questioning gender: Snapshots from explaining and addressing gender differences in the New Zealand compulsory school sector

Publication Details

The material in this report is drawn directly from an earlier, much larger report, Explaining and Addressing Gender Differences in the Compulsory School Sector: A Literature Review by Dr Adrienne Alton-Lee and Dr Angelique Praat. The aim of the earlier report, which was released in July 2000, was to:

  • review the available literature relating to identifying and explaining gender differences
  • describe strategies used to address gender differences
  • and report available evidence of the effectiveness of those strategies

The present report presents selected research examples and ideas from the main report and provides practical insights into issues of gender for teachers in the classroom.

Author(s): Adrienne Alton-Lee and Angelique Praat, Research, Ministry of Education.

Date Published: 2001

Please consider the environment before printing the contents of this report.

This report is available as a download (please refer to the 'Downloads' inset box).  For links to related publications/ information that may be of interest please refer to the 'Where to Find Out More' inset box.



"… to make sense of gender differences we must ask: Which groups of boys or girls are we considering, from what ethnic groups and social classes, and in what subjects?"

This booklet presents 'snapshots' of research and ideas selected from a much larger document, a literature review covering the period from 1989 to 1999, entitled Explaining and Addressing Gender Differences in the New Zealand Compulsory School Sector, commissioned by the Ministry of Education.

The review was prompted, in part, by the widespread concern about the performance of boys in education, and was guided by three questions:

  • What are the key factors contributing to gender differences in learning, participation and social outcomes?
  • What strategies or policies have been used to address gender differences in learning, pupil participation and social outcomes?
  • How effective have these strategies/policies been and under what circumstances?

The review of the literature 1 presents its findings in five major sections, as follows:

1. Methodology

This section explains, among other things, why the review used the curriculum areas as categories for organising gender-related research findings. Not only do gender processes vary by subject, but also many researchers claim that gender bias has affected the very content and nature of the subject disciplines. The chapter also explains why examining 'achievement gaps' can create a misleading picture, and warns against relying on overseas research when forming views on gender issues in New Zealand, in cases where local research is lacking. Some technical issues are also discussed.

2. Gender policy in context

This chapter outlines recent trends in several areas: incomes, occupations and educational qualifications of men and women; information about the intersection of schooling, gender and the 'knowledge economy'; theories of gender difference; and gender-related policies and thinking in New Zealand . It also discusses issues of educational expenditure, teacher education, teacher workload, and the 'market model' in New Zealand education, all of which have implications for gender-related policies in schools.

3. Curriculum

The seven curriculum chapters cover Science, Mathematics, Language and Languages, Arts, Technology, Health and Physical Education, and Social Sciences. The chapters examine gender-related research in a number of areas: achievement, participation and attitudes; subject content (sometimes including texts); pedagogy and classroom interactions; assessment; single-sex teaching arrangements; identity formation; self-efficacy beliefs; 'learning styles'; teachers' attitudes, actions and education; and theories and pedagogies that seek to address gender-related issues. The chapters draw on both overseas and (where available) local research, and refer to the scanty data concerning Māori, Pacific and Asian boys and girls in our schools. Where possible, the data is further broken down by ethnicity and social class. In addition, the chapters refer to gender differences in subject-specific knowledge, skills and preferences, such as mapwork in the Social Sciences, attitudes in mathematics, and competitive activities in Physical Education.

4. Gendered behaviour in schools

This chapter deals with data about truancy, suspensions, bullying and violence. It also discusses theories that seek to explain gender differences in student behaviours, and the implications of these for student well being.

5. Synthesis and Implications

This chapter summarises some major themes in the preceding chapters and discusses the resultant implications, including the role of, and possibilities for, research.

Where to find out more

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