Female high school students in Israel spend more time studying for the matriculation (bagrut) exams in mathematics and computers than their male classmates do, rely more on private tutoring and have less confidence in their ability to succeed.

These are some of the findings of a recent survey by the Cyber Education Center of the Rashi Foundation. The survey, which polled 389 students in grades 11-12 who will be taking matriculation exams in math (May 16) and computers (May 22), focused on the gender differences in learning strategies in these two subjects.

The findings indicate that girls spend more time studying for the exams than boys: 44% of them study for over a week before the exams in math and computers, compared to 31% of the boys, while only 15% give it only a day or two compared to 24% of the boys.

The survey also found that girls are twice as likely as boys to seek the assistance of private tutors — 30% and 15% respectively. Another significant difference is in their drive: while the majority in both genders reported self-motivation as the main factor, the proportion among girls was higher — 65% compared to 59%; this was reversed with regard to those who said that parents were the main source of pressure, 32% of the boys compared to 24% of the girls.

High school students take their matriculation exams in mathematics, May 2013. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

High school students take their matriculation exams in mathematics, May 2013. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

Furthermore, the survey shows a significant difference between the genders in their perception of capability. As many as 58% of the boys believed that their chances of doing well in the exams were high, but only 39% of the girls had a similar level of confidence.

An even bigger gap was revealed in response to a question about the students’ future outlook: more boys than girls (71% vs. 54%) thought there was a strong likelihood they will go on to a career in computers and math, whether in academia or in industry.

Looking to boost women in science

Israel is trying to boost the number of girls taking the highest matriculation exams in maths and sciences to enable them to access the high-tech sector, which is facing an acute shortage of skilled workers and engineers in the coming decade as students shy away from studying computer science, math and statistics.

“We lose them (women) along the whole front — at high schools, universities, the workplace and at high-level jobs in the workplace…. This is unacceptable,” Israel’s former chief scientist Avi Hasson said in an interview last year.

The Cyber Education Center of the Rashi Foundation recently started the CyberGirlz community for teenage girls (grades 9-12) who are interested in computer and cyber studies. This initiative is part of the center’s efforts to encourage girls to enter the world of technology and to empower them to continue developing their skills in the army, university and the high-tech industry.

The community already has hundreds of teen members, as well as older volunteers — soldiers, university students and engineers — who offer professional guidance and serve as role models for the girls. On May 9, CyberGirlz will hold a “marathon” in preparation for matriculation exam in computers in six centers around the country. Students in grades 11-12 will be able to run through sample exam questions in various coding languages, have their queries answered and get valuable tips from experts.

“The survey confirms what we know from previous research studies – that the social environment has a deep impact on the girls’ sense of capability,” said Tali Ben Aroya, director of the CyberGirlz community.

“In an environment where girls get less support and encouragement than boys, they tend to have less confidence in their own ability, which is reflected in the low proportion of girls among high school students majoring in computers and technology subjects. In order to change this situation, we need to create settings where they see technology as a field that women can succeed in, boosting their confidence and motivation and inspiring them to realize their own potential to succeed.”