Gender balance at vocational schools will lower drop-out rates

Male and female students at the Danish vocational schools thrive better when they are equal in numbers, and they are less inclined to skip class

2015.02.05 | Julia Rolsted Stacey

When men and women are equal in numbers in a classroom, their commitment to the programme increases and their level of absence decreases. Such are the results of a new study conducted among approximately 3,000 students from vocational schools all over the country by a group of researchers from the School of Business and Social Sciences (BSS) at Aarhus University.

This new knowledge is highly relevant, because with the new vocational school reform, which comes into force on 1 August 2015, school managers and teachers will be responsible for distributing students into classes and can do so in different ways across the basic training programmes. 

“If the students feel comfortable in the classroom, they will be less inclined to skip class, and the chances of them completing the programme increase accordingly,” says Assistant Professor Charlotte Jonasson, who is one of the six researchers behind the study.

Gender balance

It is harder to achieve a sense of community within a classroom where there are too many women and too few men. Men do not thrive particularly well when they are the majority, but they are better at it than women.

On the contrary, female students also tend to be absent more frequently if they are in a class with a large majority of men. Hence, the absence rate for both men and women can be reduced, if the schools assure a proper gender balance when composing classes. According to the researchers, the female students have a little more to gain from this than their male counterparts, but there are positive effects to be gained across the board.

Collaboration across genders is another obvious way to increase the students’ well-being in class; for example, a form of collaboration where the students can be inspired by each other’s knowledge.

Small classes instil a sense of security

Charlotte Jonasson’s research also suggests that it is better for young and new students to be in smaller classes. It will give them a better start to their studies if they can gain a sense of security in the classroom, and this is easier in a class with only a limited number of fellow students.

The research thus offers a clear message to the vocational schools: If you want to lower the drop-out rate, you need to carefully consider the size and composition of the classes.

Facts about the study

  • The study is entitled “Absence, commitment and social environments in Danish vocational schools: 2014 research project report” (Fravær, engagement og socialt miljø på danske erhvervsskoler: Afrapportering af forskningsprojekt 2014).
  • The study was completed in 2012.
  • The respondents were teachers and students on the basic programmes in Danish vocational education and training programmes, with the exception of the technical and commercial upper secondary schools and social and health care schools.
  • 3000 students in about 280 classes on 25 vocational education and training institutions across the country participated in the study.
  • Moreover, Charlotte Jonasson has completed a thorough field study and participated in classroom teaching and similar activities on a vocational school. She has also conducted interviews with the teachers and students.

About the vocational school reform

  • The Danish government’s goal is to get 25 per cent more students to choose a vocational education and training programme by 2020.
  • The new reform of the Danish vocational education system towards improving vocational education and training in Denmark (Faglært til Fremtiden - bedre og mere attraktive erhvervsuddannelser på vej) comes into effect on 1 August 2015. Click here to read an overview of the reform in English.
  • The vocational schools currently have a higher drop-out rate than other youth education programmes in Denmark. Approximately one out of two vocational school students drop out before they finish their degrees.

Further information

Assistant Professor Charlotte Jonasson
Department of Psychology and Behavioural Sciences
School of Business and Social Sciences
Aarhus University
+45 8716 5834

Professor MSO Jacob Lauring
Department of Business Administration
School of Business and Social Sciences
Aarhus University
+45 8716 5113

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