Gender segregation in schools risks increasing bullying

When children segregate themselves into groups of boys and girls, problems with coarse language and bullying escalate. This is evidenced by a study where students and staff from three schools were interviewed.
"The climate worsened among both boys and girls. One explanation is that the macho culture is reinforced," says Silvia Edling, professor of didactics at the University of Gävle.

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Gender segregation creates a tougher atmosphere in schools. Students and staff feel that the language has become coarser and that violence and harassment have increased. PHOTO: TT Bild.

The researchers interviewed students in grades 4-6, as well as teachers, counselors, janitors, and other staff, at three different schools. The study is based on well-founded statistics from the municipality where the schools are located, which show that more girls than boys have reported experiencing bullying since 2017.

The schools differ—one of them has had a relatively low proportion of students experiencing harassment over time, the second school has had a high proportion of harassment, while the conditions at the third school have varied. What is common among the schools is that both students and staff feel that gender-segregated groupings have increased among the children.

"The interviews overall indicate a sharp divide between girls and boys. The segregation makes it difficult for boys to show softer values and for girls to enter the boys' arena. Boys feel they can't play with 'girly' things, and girls feel they can't express themselves as boys without standing out and being teased for it," says Silvia Edling. Staff and students testify that the segregation creates a tougher atmosphere. Language has become coarser, and violence and harassment have increased. The study also shows that a kind of order is established where boys and girls maintain gender segregation.

"The interviews suggest that this seems to stem from a harsher societal climate, but also from increased influence among parents. There is a conservative trend in society now contributing to boys and girls socializing separately," says Guadalupe Francia, professor of pedagogy.

A positive aspect highlighted in the study is the extensive knowledge and competence regarding bullying among the staff. Both students and teachers emphasize the importance of adults being visible and intervening consistently. However, for this to work in practice, support from the principals must be present.

"There is widespread fear of how parents will react if reports are made, which leads to some problems being swept under the rug. There is also concern that principals are not taking action. This can perpetuate the problems on the ground," says Silvia Edling.

Another relatively strong finding in the study is that girls seem to be particularly vulnerable on social media outside of school, making it important to pay more attention to this in school.

"We need to learn more about the importance of social media and how to handle them to address the bullying that occurs online," says Silvia Edling. Previous studies show that bullying among boys is often more visible in the form of physical violence, while it is more subtle and difficult to detect among girls. Therefore, the staff at the three schools wish for more knowledge about harassment among girls.

About the study

The qualitative case study "In the Shadow of Bullying and Harassment in Middle School from a Gender Perspective" is authored by Silvia Edling, Guadalupe Francia, Maryam Bourbour, Davoud Masoumi, and Peter Gill (Professor Emeritus), at the University of Gävle. In total, 44 individuals from three schools of different characteristics were interviewed. The interviews comprise 800 pages of transcribed material. The study is based on extensive statistical data collected since 2012 through two annual surveys distributed to all schools in Gävle as part of the so-called Gävle model.

Read the full study here External link.

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Anders Munck

Press Manager

This page was last updated 2024-05-13