A case study of gender differences in 8th grade students’ performance in TIMSS 2011 science test in United Arab Emirates, Dubai schools.
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The UAE suffers from a serious shortage of professional scientists, mathematics and science teachers, engineers and technologists due to low levels of engagement and reduced enrollment in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines, also referred to as the STEM disciplines. Within the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in the 1900s, women were not required by society, tradition or religion to contribute financially to the family. The responsibility of financially supporting a family was relegated to men, while females were given the primary role of care givers over that of career women (Sidani, 2005). However, since the 1990s, a concerted effort has been made by the Ministry of Education (MoE) of Dubai to increase females’ access to education and to enhance their participation in scientific fields. In the light of the aforementioned factors, this study sought, firstly, to explore if there was a gender difference in 8th Grade UAE learners’ performance in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) science test in 2011 in Dubai schools. The research questions that guided this study were: 1. What gender difference is evident in 8th grade learners’ performance in the TIMSS 2011 science tests with regard to: 1.1. The science content dimension (biology, chemistry, physics and earth sciences)? 1.2. The science cognitive dimension (knowing, applying, reasoning)? 2. What contextual factors in the TIMSS 2011 science test could possibly account for the observed gender difference, if any? This study made use of secondary data from the TIMSS test questionnaires to answer the research questions. Bourdieu’s (1977) Theory of Cultural Capital and Social Reproduction was used as a framework as it had a direct link to the research focus of this study. Bourdieu (1977) asserts that the major role of educational systems is the reproduction of power relationships and privilege between social classes or groups, where social inequality is reproduced and legitimated. Bourdieu’s concepts of capital and habitus were used during the comparative analysis of the data. The findings of this study indicate that the 8th grade female science students outperformed boys in both the content and cognitive domains of the 2011 TIMSS test. Furthermore, the findings raised questions about the quality of the science investigations being conducted in schools, as well as the type of professional development available to teachers as the vast majority of teachers teaching science in the UAE are foreign qualified teachers.