Gender and physics

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Unlike many other countries, physics is highly popular in secondary education in Scotland, with large numbers opting for study at the Higher Grade on which entry to higher education is based. This paper reports a project that explored the attitudes and perceptions of Scottish girls and boys towards physics over the age range of 10-18 years old. Towards the end of primary school, attitudes towards science are very positive and both boys and girls are looking forward to studying more science in secondary school, althoughthere is no evidence that the introduction of primary science has been a factor. By the end of the second year of secondary school, these positive attitudes have declined quite markedly and a significant decline of girls' attitudes towards science relative to boys' attitudes was clearly observed. The success of the Standard Grade physics course (a 2-year course taken in third and fourth year, ages 14-16 approximately) is easy to observe in terms of the restoration of positive attitudes of boys and girls again as the pupils move through third and fourth year. This process is especially clearly marked among girls. Surprisingly, over 90 per cent of the observed fourth year pupils wanted to continue studies in physics but a marked decline in attitude is observed during the Higher Grade course (a 1-year course which follows Standard Grade), this being more marked for boys. If the number of girls in physics is an issue for concern within the structure of Scottish system, then the focus of attention should be the structure and nature of the science course in the early secondary school.

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