Lower secondary school-leavers: Still a gender-biased education system?

A new paper published in the ERVET journal focuses on the specific sub-group of those students who leave school when they reach the lower secondary level (16 years old) — traditionally labelled as ‘school losers’ — entering apprenticeships or technical education paths. If boys are generally underperforming at school compared to girls, the research finds that, in this kind of students, female adolescents are more disadvantaged, delineating a gender-specific nature of the vocational education and training system.

In Germany, where this study published in the ERVET journal was carried out, girls have been receiving better school grades than boys for more than 60 years, and for more than 20 years, they have constituted the higher proportion of applicants with qualifications for higher education. In recent years, the disparity in performance between boys and girls has continued to rise and has led to an intense debate in education and training policy regarding boys being the new problem group.

But when coming to professional education and apprenticeship, particularly in the group of students who leave school before the age of 18, the situation is reversed. Female adolescents leaving school with no more than a lower secondary school-leaving certificate can be regarded as the “losers” when transitioning into vocational education and training, and face significantly worse prospects than comparable male adolescents.

The research, carried out by Ursula Beicht and Günter Walden from the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training in Bonn, goes farther in the exploration of the influence of gender on the transitioning to the labor market, at least in this particular sub-group. Female adolescents are underrepresented in training paths based on an internship in a firm (more precisely, a “dual” system combining training in a company and classrooms), which offer a wide range of training in manufacturing and technical occupations, predominantly popular amongst male adolescents. In contrast, purely school-based education and training is still a largely female domain, strongly characterised by social and healthcare occupations.

The gender-specific nature of the vocational education and training system in Germany is a reflection of a gender-specific job market, where significant differences in the vocational structures for men and women remain and seem still to be driven by old social stereotypes. In the career-selection process, according to career-choice theories as well as to empirical investigations, male and female adolescents exclude occupations that are perceived as not compatible with a male or female role definition, depending on the social stereotypes of “masculinity,” associated with objectivity, rationality and considered close to technology, and “femininity,” more linked with relationship orientation, self-reticence, attractiveness and physical awareness.

The full article is open-access, as with all ERVET papers, both online and as a PDF, and it belongs to a wider article collection about the transition of young adolescents to professional training and further to the labor market.

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