No. 36




Gender Gaps in Education

07 December 2017


RiTo No. 36, 2017

  • Aune Valk

    University of Tartu, Vice Rector for Academic Affairs

The present article analyses gender gaps in education in Estonia based on research papers and proposes several ways for dealing with it.

Gender gaps are not just a problem of the education system. Compared to several other areas, in the education sector, there is more equality in Estonia than in the EU on the average. At the same time, education plays a very important role in promoting gender equality. School is affected by values of the society, but the school can also change them or reproduce them.

Gender difference in education is evident in several aspects in Estonia. The length of studies and the results of studies are generally in favour of girls. At the same time, boys are more confident in their knowledge, e.g. in their knowledge of Maths. The difference in education choices between girls and boys is already evident at the end of basic school. Twice as many boys start vocational education. Gender distribution is very uneven among the different study programs in vocational secondary education. About 60% of university students are women. There are, however, two times more female graduates than male. When looking at higher education in Estonia, gender gap tends to shift in favour of women in the fields of education, health, and welfare. However, this is also the case on the international level. Out of the European countries Estonia displays the largest gender gap among adults with higher education. Estonia has one of the greatest differences in Europe in the percentage of women and men with higher education. There is also the largest gender pay gap, to the detriment of women.

Although gender gaps are a rather major issue in Estonia, few view it as a problem, also in education. Only one in three teachers treats gender equality as a value. Few have participated in relevant trainings, and 2/3 of the teachers believe that the society’s expectations towards men and women cannot be changed.

Gender (gap) is influenced by different socialisation of children, school culture, and extracurricular activities. School culture and the social-economic status of one’s peers influences boys more than girls. Vocational choices are influenced by parents’ attitudes, but also by the general perception of gender equality by the society. Parents usually expect the boys to start a career in a field connected to natural sciences, exact sciences, and technology. The differences in expectations are not explained by the different results of boys and girls. It has been established that women study longer as they benefit from studies more thanks to the increased participation in the labour market. At school boys often believe that education is of little use to them. After graduating however they read more and develop their skills in a way that allows them to quickly catch up with the girls who had surpassed them at school.

According to this analysis, the solution to the problem is such school culture where learning has been made more interesting and connected with the real life Development of clear guidelines emphasising the value of gender equality should also be considered. There is a need to develop teachers’ skills, attitudes, and beliefs that would support gender equality. Perhaps it would be of help if relevant indicators were published according to genders, pointing out the importance of the topic. An equal development of skills of men and women at a later point can be supported through changes in parental benefit policy and training policy.