Gender and Ethnicity in Israeli High School STEM Courses: Students Beliefs and School Policies

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 18:09
Oral Presentation
Yariv FENIGER, Ben-Gurion Universit, Israel
Halleli PINSON, Ben-Gurion University, Israel
The underrepresentation of girls and women in STEM and its persistence, has attracted a great deal of attention over the past decades. So far research has mostly focused on individual or social-structural explanations to this phenomenon. In recent years critical sociologists have also adopted a more intersectional approach examining the intersection between gender ,race and class. However, what have yet to receive adequate attention is the impact of school policy on gender patterns in STEM. In particularly the ways in which choice and tracking policies affect the participation in advanced STEM classes of girls and boys from diverse social and ethnic backgrounds.

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.