Students choose education based on gender
01 Oct 2018, 03:49
Finland is thought of as a model country in terms of equality, but young people are still choosing their education based on their gender more than in any other European country.
Finnish school students face important choices during their final year of comprehensive school. They have to decide whether to continue to upper secondary school, vocational school, or perhaps a folk high school, said a press release of the University of Helsinki quoting an article published in the university magazine.
During guidance counselling classes, the students explore different occupations as well as their own strengths and preferences. They have one-on-one meetings with the guidance counsellor as well as group sessions, and they are introduced to the world of work. The students also talk about their choices among themselves, because it matters what their peer group thinks.
The goal is to help young people independently choose the education path that is most suitable and interesting for them.
Some have no trouble choosing. They have always known what they want to do when they grow up: for example, take as many math and physics classes in upper-secondary school as they can and then head to medical school. Or go to culinary school to become a chef.
Others, meanwhile, apply to the only secondary education institution in their area because they have no other options. Some are likely to go where their friends go; some will follow in the footsteps of their older siblings or choose the place that sounds like the most fun.
But young people are not making their decisions in a vacuum. More than a third of boys and a fifth of girls who answered a survey organised by Statistics Finland believe that their gender would influence their choice of profession. One in 10 boys believes that choosing an un-masculine occupation would make them less popular with the girls.
The dream jobs of both girls and boys reflect traditional concepts of “feminine” and “masculine” occupations. In a survey conducted by the Economic Information Office (TAT), girls expressed interest in health and social services as well as the restaurant and hospitality industries. Boys were more interested in technology, national defence as well as banking and finance.
These girls and boys will go on to graduate into their chosen professions. Of all the students graduating with a degree in the social and health care sector, 90 per cent are women, and the inverse is true for IT degrees.
The division into traditionally gendered fields begins as early as comprehensive school, where boys are more likely to complete optional courses in mathematics and science. Girls, meanwhile, study a wider variety of languages than boys. This division persists in upper-secondary school. Even though Finland is viewed as a model of gender equality, its young people continue to choose their education according to gender stereotypes more than in any other country in the European Union.
Gender is most significant for the career choices of girls from immigrant backgrounds, said Mira Kalalahti, docent of educational sociology from the University of Helsinki. She has been studying the education paths of young people since 2015.
“Girls from immigrant backgrounds find it more difficult to challenge traditional gender roles than their counterparts from native Finnish families. For some of them, cultural and religious expectations also influence their choice of education. For example, the school must be a safe distance from home.”
Girls from immigrant backgrounds are also more likely to wind up studying for traditionally “feminine” occupations, because in those fields, the education has been adapted to their needs. For example, preparatory teaching is available for students pursuing a practical nursing degree.
For the same reason, boys from immigrant backgrounds are seeking out education in social and health care fields. For them, the Finnish world of vocational schools traditionally thought of as very masculine can seem exclusionary and intolerant. This image is supported by opinion surveys which indicate that boys pursuing a vocational degree hold particularly negative opinions of cultural diversity.