Schooling in Hong Kong
In Hong Kong, students spend over 8 hours a day in schools. Being in a school and interacting with their classmates, they inevitably engage in socialisation process. Socialisation is the process that one learns to be a member of his society. (Berger, 1976) It is so vital for shaping our self-image, roles that we should be playing and rules that we have to follow. (Harro, 2000) All of us are born with gender, and we will socialise ourselves into the community according to gender. Children first acquire gender-role socialisation from their parents, then the process continues after they enter the kindergarten and primary school, and so on. (Ngai, 1995) Gender-role socialisation means that one learn about the characteristics of his or her gender and by adopting those characteristics to socialise into a community.
Unlike in the past century, girls also receive education equally nowadays. However, they are not treated in the same way as boys. There are a lot of researches showing the linkage between gender and schooling. For most of the researches, gender inequality is shown for schools. For example, teachers have management boys and girls in different ways inside a classroom. Outside the classroom, there are fixed mindsets for genderization of extra-curriculum activities for males and females. As the general public has gender stereotype towards two sexes, gender inequality has resulted; however, gender inequality is needed to be solved as it can hinder one from developing his self-perception and self-understanding.
This paper will first cover the agents for constructing the two genders in school. There are three agents – peers, teachers and school that are identified and will give more explanation in the following part. It is no surprise that we easily come across an assumption that the dominant male culture is more valuable than the female one by its nature. (Kwok, 2003) Thus, these three agents are playing an essential role in forming gender inequality in schools. The reasons why we unconsciously create gender inequality in school can be related to our academic and hidden curriculum which will be further explained in the second part in this paper. In the last part of the essay, the impacts of gender inequality will be illustrated. As gender socialisation has a tremendous effect in one’s career path regarding his attitude, skills and achievement level, it is crucial for us to understand the effects caused by gender inequality. (Measor & Sikes, 1992, as cited in Ngai, 1995)
Talking about agents for constructing the roles for two sexes, students, teachers and schools are actively participating in the process according to social constructionist perspective. (Kwok, 2003)
The first agent is their peers as students spend most of their time in school with their peers; they will be easily influenced by each other. Peer socialisation means that peers are having similar behaviour, interaction style and activity with their group, especially gender group. (Fabes et al., 2014) For example, when a girl is playing with her group of friends, this group will be likely to demonstrate some similar behavioural characteristics. Different gender groups will perform common features which match their genders in the public’s eyes. At the same time, peers can be influential for one to make decisions regarding activities that he or she will participate. (Fabes et al., 2014) Take joining extra-curricular activities as an example, if your friends decide to join the football club, you will be more likely to sign up for the club as well due to peer pressure or influence. A boy’s friend can stop him from doing something which seems to be feminine. Hence, peers can be influential in constructing the gender role, especially when young people are more likely to play with people of the same gender.
Apart from peers, teachers are also agents that construct gender role as they have to manage the classroom and transfer knowledge. Inside a school, teachers are observed to give more attention to boys than girls. (Chan, 2011) As teachers think boys are more energetic than girls, they pay more effort to control them than girls. Besides, teachers tend to have expectations for female and male students to choose elective subjects. They usually have a bias that science subjects are for boys, while arts subjects are for girls. Worse still, if girls choose science subjects, teachers will be hostile towards the girls as they are deemed to be less talented. (Chan, 2011) Divisive and inegalitarian practices are contributed by the teachers inside a classroom. (Skelton, Francis, 2009) Eventually, girls feel that they are treated unequally inside a classroom and this forms the problem of gender inequality.
Not only do teachers have an important role in creating a gender-fair educational environment, but schools are also crucial to provide a space for students to acquire gender roles. (Chen, Rao, 2011; Ngai, 1995) School policies for both sexes can affect one to socialise his or her gender into the community. For example, a principal of a middle-class elite school does not allow Girl Guides in his school to have the flag-selling day as he regards it as dangerous. What is more extreme is that girls are not allowed to play ball games due to the same reason. (Chan, 2011) Students will then feel frustrated about the policies and confused about the hidden messages behind this gender policy. School policies which are related to gender can shape the gender role for a student. The three agents stated in the above are leading the problem of gender inequality. Two main aspects can illustrate the reasons behind their behaviours including academic and hidden curriculum.
Firstly, the academic curriculum which is written in the textbook usually contains gender-biased information. (Michele, 2004) For example, in some textbooks, when it talks about careers in our society, it is common for us to see men wear like a firefighter or policeman and women dressed like a nurse or a babysitter. These textbooks contain gender stereotype and unavoidably affecting the public perception towards females and males. Meanwhile, in our textbook, females are usually under-presented. According to research, the sexual ratio of males and females appearing in the textbooks of Chinese Language, Social Studies and Health Education is 1.9:1. Even though women appear in the textbooks, they are seemingly passive and dependent on males. (Ngai, 1995) Through showing the difference in the relationship between males and females in textbooks, the public like teachers will easily be affected in their teaching; as a result, forming gender inequality. By illustrating male and female in different ways in textbooks, there is sex stereotype which is about the public beliefs about the two sexes. (Wong, 1993)
The hidden curriculum which is not stated in the official curriculum is social norms, values and relations in student’s school life. It explains that education provides students space to visualise the implicit learning in their school life. (Hernández et al., 2013) Specifically, Hidden Curriculum of Gender (HOG) is a term used to talk about the cultural environment for one to develop his or her sexual roles, personal perception or expectation. (Hernández et al., 2013) The behavioural curriculum can be one of the hidden curriculums to draw the reasons behind gender inequality.
Behavioural curriculum talks about which roles and kinds of activities that one should engage in. (Michele, 2004) We have traditional roles that two sexes should play. For example, males should be breadwinner and females should be caretaker. This can trace back to our education history. As males receive education earlier than females, males have a higher social status than females. Females seem to be more inferior and responsible for housework. As time passes, males take the role of income earner for a family and need to be strong as well as determined. Females have to be submissive and caring so as to take care of their family members. Thus, our general public has specific roles and traits for girls and boys; therefore, forming hidden behavioural curriculum. While females are hoped to act decently, be quiet and obedient, males are expected to be more masculine and determined. It can be put in the way that males have a higher social status and hold more human capital in our society. By acknowledging which activities that different sexes should engage in, we actually have sex-role stereotype. There is one more term used to describe our fixed perception of psychological and behavioural characteristics of these two sexes – sex-trait stereotype. (Wong, 1993)
Gender inequality can affect a student’s personal growth, including personalities and self-confidence. (Maher & Ward ,2002) Through socialising themselves into a school, students will develop their personalities. Teachers always told females students to lower their volumes, be quiet and obedient. (Chan, 2011) This kind of gender stereotype will give students a typical image of one size. In order to socialise into the community, female students will develop feminine personalities, while male students will develop masculine personalities. At the same time, the self-confidence of one may be lowered if he or she is not demonstrating the personalities that a male or female should have. It is common that if a boy is talking softly, his classmates may tease him for acting like a “girl”. There is a movie – Billy Elliot talking about a boy who wants to be a ballet dancer is teased by his classmates, neighbours and parents as they think ballet dancer should be a girl instead of a boy. Being teased by people surrounding him, he tried to suppress his interest in ballet dancing at first. As a result, while one is not performing what his gender “should” do, he may easily have low self-confidence and even not to do what he likes.
The difference in academic achievement is one of the impacts that resulted. (Maher & Ward ,2002) Genderization of subjects occurs when boys are usually more outstanding in science subjects and girls are more capable in handling arts subjects (Kwok, 2003) Due to the genderisation, girls usually underestimate their abilities in Mathematics and Science; thus, they choose not to study science subjects. (Schoon & Jacquelynne, 2014) As shown in the data on Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority (HKEAA), while there are 7839 boys choose physics, there are 2992 girls choose physics. (HKEAA, 2018) However, students studying science subjects will have a better grade in the HKDSE, and it can be shown in the result data put on the HKEAA website. For example, in 2018, while there are 19.7% of the total candidate of Literature in English getting 5, there are 25.2% for those taking Physics getting 5. (HKEAA, 2018) From the data, gender stereotype can affect one to choose his or her elective subjects; and thus, leading to the difference of academic achievement in two sexes.
What comes after the difference in academic achievement is diverse in career path development for two sexes. On the one hand, if you are studying mathematics and science, you will be more likely to get a well-paid job. (Maher & Ward ,2002) The reason is that if you study science subjects which are more likely to get a better grade in the public examination like what has mentioned before, you will have a high priority to choose more “prestigious” subjects in the university such as medical, dental and law subjects. They are more “prestigious” as people engaging in these careers will receive a higher salary on average.
On the other hand, as male and female students develop self-image in school, they will tend to choose the career that seems to fit their sexes. For instance, females will choose jobs which femininity like caring and patient may be an advantage such as nurses or teachers. Meanwhile, males may take up jobs like construction workers, drivers that requires masculinity. As a consequence, they will have different career choices as students are affected by the gender stereotype in our society.
From the essay above, we can identify the importance of peers, teachers and schools for shaping the gender role in a school. The behaviours or verbal actions about gender roles can be explained by the academic and hidden curriculum, namely behavioural curriculum. We must admit the fact that students spend most of their time in schools for more than 12 years in school. They inevitably learn how to socialise themselves in the school environment according to their gender and surroundings. That is why gender inequality in schools is a problem that needed to be solved. The impacts caused by gender inequality cannot be underestimated as students influenced by the gender stereotype will bring this mindset to the next generation and lead to vicious of the cycle. In a micro scale, one’s self-image, confidence, academic achievement and career development can be affected by gender inequality at school. To a macro scale, this can cause gender inequality problem in our society. To further illustrate, men who are doing well-paid jobs will keep being the breadwinner of a family and maintain higher social status, while women will be less superior than men. In Hong Kong, which is a patriarchal society, gender inequality is even more severe as male dominates and make decision for the whole family.
There are suggestions made by some researchers to ease the problem. For the government, it is suggested that it can implement a public policy related to gender in all areas of society. (Hernández et al., 2013) It helps promote a gender equality perception for the public. The most crucial point is to integrate the contribution of gender in the hidden curriculum in our education. (Hernández et al., 2013) It is undeniable that the hidden curriculum about gender is affecting the construction of gender roles; and thus, integration of hidden curriculum can be beneficial. No matter what suggestions a school or a government would take, it is hoped that in the future, gender equality can be seen in schools so that students can grow up without any gender expectation from others and unleash their potentials to the maximum level.”