Factors affecting female students' participation in male dominated fields of study in tertiary institutions in Zambia : The case of the University of Zambia

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Sikaulu, Munamuzunga C
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Women have historically been under-represented in education and careers around the world. In Zambia, females are under-represented at all levels of the education system. However, the situation is worse at tertiary level, where most female students are found in fields of studies traditionally perceived to be for women such as teaching, nursing and social work. Males are dominant in science and technology fields. This situation prevails despite the high rates to education at the secondary and tertiary level, and the numerous benefits to society from educating females (World Bank, 1993). Females have accounted for one-fifth of the University of Zambia first year admissions for sometime. For instance, out of the total university enrolment of 4686 in all disciplines in the 1989/90 academic year, females accounted for nearly one-fifth, about 19.3 percent (MOE, 1995). This study sought to establish the factors that perpetuate females' low participation in science and technology fields at tertiary level. An investigation was also made on whether a pattern of choice of field of study existed between students from coeducation and those from single sex schools. Furthermore, an evaluation was made on whether the gender concerns on admission of the University of Zambia strategic plan were being met. The study was conducted at the University of Zambia and selected secondary schools in Lusaka. Both qualitative and quantitative techniques of data collection were used in this study. The qualitative technique of in-depth document review was employed in examining documents on performance of pupils in the Grade Twelve Examinations from selected secondary schools. Documents related to admission at the University of Zambia were also examined in order to establish the enrolment trends by gender in the period of the UNZA strategic plan of 1993 to 1998. The quantitative technique in the form of structured questionnaires was used to elicit responses from sampled first year students. Data from the questionnaires were analyzed using the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences while qualitative data were arranged, categorized and described to establish linkages, trends or differences. Both females and males ranked personal interest in a particular field as the main reason for choice of field of study. The students be it in the school of Education, Humanities or Natural Sciences attributed their choice of these schools to personal interest in them. This study could not conclusively establish the source of this personal interest whether from the social or psychological point of view. Further research is recommended on the factor of personal interest influencing the students' choice of field of study, as this study did not establish the source of this personal interest. Other factors also emerged as being responsible for the female's under-representation in science fields. These factors were, segregated secondary school curriculum (in terms of subjects offered), inadequate career guidance and counselling and under-representation of females in foundation classes. The females were grossly affected by these factors in their learning process such that at the point of choosing a field of study, the majority opted for art-based programmes.The pattern of choices field of study that emerged was that there were more females from single sex schools than females and males from co-education admitted into the University especially in the School of Natural Sciences. Furthermore there were more males from co-educational schools than those from single sex schools. An additional interesting finding was that the females from private schools admitted into University were more than the males from the same schools. The above pattern was linked to the good performance of females from single sex schools. Female admissions at the University of Zambia continued to fluctuate in the years of the strategic plan. The targeted increase in admission of females from about one fifth of first year enrolment to one third was only met in the 1998/99 academic year which was due policy changes governing admission by the University of Zambia senate. Frequent closures of the University affected the implementation of the Strategic Plan.
Women -- Education (higher) , Science students -- Females -- Zambia