Overcoming Gaps: A Three Part Series, Part 3 Education Gap


“As soon as girls enter school, they are underestimated.” ~Joseph P. Robinson-Cimpian

Researcher Joseph P. Robinson-Cimpian has studied gender achievement, also known as the Education Gap, for over a decade, and this statement in one of his studies encompasses the general outcome of this particular gap. With his colleague Sarah Lubienski, he uncovered that kindergarten students had no gap in math test scores, but a fairly large one that favored boys by second or third grade.

And, like the Confidence Gap, a belief from an outside person (not the girl or boy themselves, but the teacher) contributes to the gap. Worse, studies show that boys and girls of the same race and socio-economic status who performed equally well on math tests and whom the teacher rated equally well in behaving and engaging with school, the teacher rated the boy as more mathematically able – an alarming pattern that was replicated in a separate data set collected over a decade later.

The Gender Gap is the discrepancy between men and women. The phrase itself is vague and doesn’t specifically connect with any one challenge that women face. This is part three of a three part series that details one gap, a thought exercise around it and some ideas on overcoming it. This issue’s focus: Education.

Cimpian asserts that, based on his research, in order to be seen as capable as a male counterpart, a girl needs to not only perform as well, but also be seen working harder.

To reiterate, this starts as early as the beginning of grade school.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t stop at grade school, as you might know. You’ve probably heard reference to, or taken part in, STEM initiatives in order to increase the number of women in underrepresented fields of science, technology, engineering, and math majors.

Taking several years and steps back, society is shown to instill a “men are brilliant” stereotype into children at a young age. This gender notion of intelligence starts at as young as five – and at the same time that boys are being told they are brilliant, girls are being told that they a “nice” – and this carries past youth into the interests of kids. The boys are more interested in the “smart game” than girls as early as six years old. That same game, a year earlier? The girls are far more interested in the “smart game” than the boys: all because, again, of an outside influence telling girls they are less than.

It’s important to note that this data and research is not showing that women are underperforming men: on the contrary, several research studies show that women are outperforming men. What it is showing is the perception of men “outperforming” women in certain areas like math and science, and the unconscious (or conscious) bias of teachers and faculty.

First thing first: do you think you’ve dealt with the Education Gap? Take a few moments to reflect in writing if you’ve experienced this in your life. This gap is a bit different: as adults, we can’t do anything about our past education. If we have kids or teach kids, we can be aware of these biases and work to dismantle them. As adults, harboring anger or aggression isn’t helpful or healthy: we can invest in our current education and interests.

Professional development or continuing education classes are an excellent way to continue the learning you might have skipped, or forgone, years ago. It’s also a fun way to learn things you’re interested in – many colleges offer non-matriculating programs and classes that are open to the public for a lower fee, and community colleges are often a great alternative to simply learn. Online classes, books, and learning websites are great ways to explore an interest.

Remember, as an adult, no one can tell you to learn. One of the biggest facts about adult education and learning: you have to opt in. So opt in.


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