Gender and Ethnicity in Israeli High School STEM Courses: Students Beliefs and School Policies
Recent data from Israel show that while Jewish high schoolers exhibit the well-known gender gap in advanced physics and computer science course taking, Arab students show gender equality, or female advantage, in such courses. Inspired by this intriguing pattern, this explorative study compared two schools in the south of Israel: One a general state schools that serves the secular Jewish majority group in Israel. The other, is an Arab-Israeli state school that serves the indigenous Bedouin minority. Using qualitative data (interviews with the teachers and the schools’ management teams) we unpacked the school's policies in relation to advanced course-taking. Using quantitative data (students’ questionnaire) we examined differences and similarities in students’ perceptions of STEM courses and careers. Findings show that gender differences towards STEM fields of study and future occupation are similar among both Jewish and Arab students. Yet, Arab girls take advanced physics and computer science courses in a much higher rate. This can be explained by different school policies. While the school that caters for Jewish students prioritizes student choice, the school that caters for Arab Bedouin students has a more rigid placement policy that oblige high-achieving girls to enroll in physics and computer science courses.