Approaches to learning

The cultural symbolic legacy, the difficulties inherent in women's first encounter with the machine, the absence of a playful relationship with it, are all factors that make for different experiences and attitudes of women and men towards learning. To summarise the arguments, men are generally more disorderly and creative whereas women are more methodical and systematic. These characteristics emerge at all levels of the research and to seem to apply across the generations. These different traits do not carry any inherent value. But because knowledge is generally transmitted through men, male characteristics are presented as superior. And in mixed gender learning contexts it will be the men in the group who prevail. Here is a revealing passage taken from the literature review, concerning the arbitrary attribution of value such that women's skills and abilities end up being demoted.

A study carried out in 1991 by Willis showed that whereas the women students worked systematically, following indications and a manual, men were more inclined to play computer games. The teachers and lecturers at the Perth conference where these data were presented reached the unanimous conclusion that boys engaged in the games because they had greater self-assurance with regard to the computer. Girls on the other hand followed instructions closely because they lacked a sense of familiarity and confidence with regard to the technology.

Contrary to the conclusions of the Perth conference, it is clear that these differences correspond to distinct attitudes and strategies that are mainly a result of the different processes of socialisation that boys and girls undergo. Furthermore:

Spender describes a personal experiment she carried out at a conference that took place one year later elsewhere in Australia. She presented Willis' data but reversed the results. According to this version, it was the girls who engaged in the games and the boys who followed the manual instructions. The unanimous interpretation was surprising. It was suggested that boys pursued the set learning programme because they were aware of the seriousness of the matter whereas the girls engaged in game playing because their lack of understanding of the medium resulted in insecurity and an unwillingness to take the programme seriously. This revealing experiment offers a warning about the assumptions that inform the interpretation of facts. This is relevant to teaching as well as research. Women-only courses, though important, cannot of themselves tackle the problems outlined if the assumptions current among teachers and within the family are not confronted and as long as the unequal nature of gender relations is not addressed.


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