Generally, women are critical players in every society. Women influence actions and perspective in all levels of the society be it family, community or government. Nonetheless, this has never been a reality in Arabic countries which are wholly oriented towards patriarchal social systems (Elsafty, 2005). Besides other social avenues, gender perception has disadvantaged women in educational context significantly affecting learning. A study done by Alhumaid (2017, p. 1) in Saudi Arabia, Northern Border University, establishes that language is formed in the presence of human thought which is entirely a perception, either positive or negative. This study tried to determine the connection between language and perception or though conceived by the society. Accordingly, English learning among Arabic women is heavily affected by social stereotype, public opinion and facilitate labeling which particularly involves negative perception against them. English as Foreign Language Learners (EFL) in Saudi Arabian universities encounter difficulties in acquiring language skills as has been illustrated by a high number of them who get low performances during examinations. This is contrary to the fact that they have competent teachers, resource availability, and increased focus of their institutions to promote second language acquisition and competence. And thus, it is evident that negative gender perception is substantively implicating on Arabic women’s learning of English as confirmed by Alhumaid (2007, p. 2). This literature review is conducting a meta-analysis of articles that describe the gender factors affecting the ability of learners to acquire second language skills. Besides, it conducted interviews drawing participants from Saudi Arabia and other countries –with interview questions based on gender differences, problems in classroom.
Q1. How does the (Arabic) society perceive gender and its relation to classroom learning?
Within Arabic society, there is an ingrained perception and compromised understanding that women should pursue learning, higher education, while actively participating in religious and Islamic culture. A study conducted by Hamdan (2006) at Ontario (Bridgewater State University, Canada), examined the gender perceptions towards women’s education in Saudi Arabia by focusing on the perceptions of the society towards their effort to achieve educational qualifications. The article does not contradict the scientific discourse in relation to the need to pursue higher education among female students in Saudi Arabia.
The study by Eldin (2015) examined the concepts of cultural definitions of the ways in which female gender should undergo language learning. This was done through systematic review of literature in United States. It found that in the context of Arabic culture, there is emphasis on women learners to consolidate local verbal and non-verbal frameworks of communication in learning a second language. The process of cultural definition of learning has been referred as ‘socialization’ and enables the learners to be ready for lifestyles in the societies in which they live. The article also emphasizes female learners should put more emphasis on acquiring skills that improves their understanding of the culture and social setup in which they live. For instance, it requires that the tone of a person’s voice should indicate his or her gender in the society since a person’s markers of identity are determined by the distribution of silence and the choice of grammatical structures. The article by Norris (2009) examines the reasons why most Arab states lag behind in the acquisition of skills in English as a Foreign Language compared with other regions globally by focusing in the impacts of social perceptions towards the participation of male and female students in educational programs. According to the article, the society has developed the perception that higher educational attainment is reserved for the male gender rather than female gender. This perception has extended to other spheres of life in the society such as leadership where men are more likely to be accepted in leadership while women are required to participate in the labor force. Unlike Eldin’s (2015, p. 3) study which generally gives a cultural context of gender perception, this study emphasis on social perception that has prevented the ability of women to seek the rights to educational achievement which is a basic human right.
Differently, Alhumaid (2017, p. 127) examines the socio-cultural perceptions towards learners of different gender in the Arabic society by examining the current social-cultural discourse affecting them: which presents a gender from a context of gender in learning process. There is a correlation between second language acquisition and the perception towards different gender due to the fact that there are social and lexical structures that must be integrated with learning process. And uniquely, the study reveals a perception that regional and ethnic languages have impacted the abilities of learners to understand English as a foreign language because there is emphasis on protection of Arabic culture. A idea that is reported by Hamdan (2017) who reveal that Arabic women are uneasy with learning English because of the feeling that English portray individuals as metropolitans, to the disadvantage of being authentic to their culture.
Further, Alhareth et al (2015, p. 15), like other studies, recognize that significant barriers prevent women in their educational pursuits. It involves a review of literature on women’s higher education in Saudi Arabia. Key considerations was laid on the barriers, teaching methods, pedagogy and history aspects of women education. Contrary to Eldin’s study (2015, p. 2) that gives a classroom perspective, this study reveals that women, even in urban areas, are highly limited by a variety of factors such as religion, society and culture.
Q2. How do Arab women behave, perform in EFL (English as a foreign language) classes?
Arguably, attitude that shaped by gender constriction is crucial to motivation of EFL learners and learning in itself. As is natural, positive attitude generally creating a friendly environment that facilitates EFL learning through better behavior and concentration for better performance. A study was done by Sugimoto et. al., (2017) in two universities, The University of Tabriz and The Azad University of Tabriz, focusing on examining the attitude of male against female university students as a means of quantifying motivation factor in their studies. Majorly, this study involved 102 females and 84 male students as study participants with the use of questionnaires in data collection. Attitude as driven by a language culture has been investigated under important notions of motivation. In large sense therefore, English as a foreign language (EFL) learning is significantly affected by motivation levels among students. Among Arabic women who feature quite a compromised gender perspective, this study anticipated low motivation. Ideally, cultural perception regarding women is against women education which automatically means female students have a certain internalized knowledge that shrouds learning; hence, failing to develop a mentality that is education oriented affecting their performance and behave in the face weaknesses. And therefore, motivation is a key factor that determines an individual’s desire to do and achieve something –which is very relevant to in this context.
In this study, it was conclusive that women endure a divergent attitude relative to their male counterparts. And thus, it confirms that there is actually a biased behavior in EFL learning classrooms especially when it comes to their attitude and the will to learn. This varied male and female specific motivational patterns is explained in a study done by Alkarni (2012) done in United States that interviewed Arabic women in order to record their perceptions, goals and motivations about learning English in US using questionnaires as the data collection method. From the study, women feature relatively low participation in classrooms which significantly affect their involvement and interactions with other students compared to their male counterparts.
In another study by Baghdafi and Rezaei (2015), conducted in Islamic Republic of Iran during growth in female education to identify whether female superiority and gender perception is presented in Iranian textbooks. Contrary to Sugimoto et. al., (2017), this study examines gender roles in EFL textbooks which automatically reflects on the actual perception of female education in learning system using systematic review of textbooks as data collection method. Uniquely, female enrollment in Iran, according to this study, has increased significantly exceeding that of male students. As well, it indicates that women recently perform much better than male counterparts in EFL. In spite of this, it reports in all its criteria that males are highly represented in EFL textbooks compared to females. This indicates that male counterparts were at the center of every case example, sentence and pictures as key subjects of actions.
According to Martin et. al., (2005, p. 332), a study done in Australia among 964 university students, engagement and motivation of students to learn is not affected by the interaction with teachers, be it from any gender. It majorly applied survey and observation as data collection tools. This indicates that there are not specific social interactions patterns in Australia that bind interaction and behavior of women in classrooms with their teachers, whatsoever the sex. In learning environment such as classrooms, male and female students initiated interactions with their teachers equally, although it differs with desire of students to learn. However, in a study by Susan Finding (2017, P. 175), level of study and subjects studied in United Kingdom have been greatly gendered. This study was reviewed extant research on gender using systematic analysis across United Kingdom. The study recognizes that women perform much better than their male counterparts. Further, this indicates that women learners in UK and Australia have more freedom and space in learning environment that contribute significantly to their studies. But, subjects studied and delivery means is highly gendered as is the case of Arabic learning system, indicating that gender problem is quite a problem of many countries or regions.
Q3. How do Arab men behave, perform in EFL classes?
Arab men are believed to be within the advantage of gender roles and perception that basically means that they are generally comfortable and better placed to learn and perform in EFL classes. A study was conducted by Mathew et. al., (2013), that examined the behaviors of Arab men that impact their ability to learning English as a second language by focusing on anxiety. This study was done in Middle East College (MEC), Sultanate of Oman, using structured questionnaire to a population of 100 Arab EFL learners. The study was based on the background problem that the level of competence of students in Omani during enrollment into college programs is usually below the required levels for studies in tertiary institutions. The article compares a number of previously conducted studies by other researchers who examine the impacts of motivation and anxiety and their impacts on performance across gender.
According to a study by Al-Nasser (2015), the major problems encountered by male English learners that affect their performance in English as a second language is interference of mother tongue. The study was conducted in at a school level Saudi Arabia where unstructured interviews were asked from 7 students. It reveals that most learners use Arabic during communication and interactional activities are affected by the tendency to use them when speaking English. Moreover, most learners have also been affected by the fact that they are required to preserve their culture while undergoing educational programs such as learning English as a second language. A conclusion supported by Hamdan (2017, p. 63), a study conducted in Canada among Arabic women pursuing learning at University of Bridgewater State University. In this study, women generally indicated that they do not encourage teaching children English as it builds a cosmopolitan culture, against conservative Islamic.
In another study conducted in University of Kanshan, Iran, by Eshghinejad (2016), reveal that general female participants indicate a positive attitude towards learning English as a foreign language (EFL) in three key areas: cognitive, behavioral and emotional. The study administered questionnaire surveys, data collection tool, to 30 randomly selected students from Kanshan University. This indicates that female students were more positive and desired to learn EFL relative to male students. And as such, it provides a comprehensive relationship between a student’s gender and positive attitude –that male students are less enthusiastic to learn in EFL classes. This is supported by a study done by Doyle (2015), done in United States to identify male student’s attentiveness during class lessons. In the study, it was apparent that male students were less attentive and scored relatively lower compared to female counterparts. This imbalance in performance has been accredited to behavior and attitude of students which is different gender roles and perception. These factors are significantly shaped by the society including teachers and parents. And therefore, the amount performance is depend on gender gap existing in a country and region. Essentially, this reveals where male do not have a substantive attitude towards learning English as a foreign language, hence, implicating on their attentiveness in EFL classes. Davis & Nicaise (2011, P. 64), a study in United Kingdom based on the theory of reflective practice interviewed students in an order to quantify their interaction with teachers during classroom activity. It found that male students showed different behaviors, although a strong sense of gender equity was present.
Q4. How the interaction between Arab student and, both English and Arabic teacher differs depending on the gender?
Often, it is perceived that the relationship between a teacher and student is different depending on his or her gender. A study by Jones and Wheatley (1990, p. 862), done at North Carolina State University by use of analysis of variance confirm that there is actually difference in how teachers from the different sexes affect interactions with students. Mainly, the study used teacher call outs, behavioral warnings, teacher praise and procedural questions as factors to quantify this relationship. A substantive two way interactions were conclusive in behavioral warning to teacher sex. Here, female teachers were more concerned with male teachers relative to female students. In specific subjects, male students were at the center of much behavioral warning in physical sciences compared to female students. However, male teachers were generally concerned with both genders and behaviorally warned them on similar frequencies.
Haganauer and Volet (2014) conducted a review of continues research to quantify teacher-student relationship in University level in Australia. It emphasized on the quality and the consequences of the relationship existing. The effect of too close relationship or teachers having informal interactions with students was recognized. It was conclusive that having such interactions was too risky considering the hierarchical distribution of power in these institutions. Closeness between students is reveled to be a balance act that both a student and a teacher must exercise conscious boundary.
Another study by Decke-Cornill (2007) examined the impact of gender on the nature of interactions that take place in classrooms. This study was conducted in United States as an extensive review of literature. Systematic analysis of sources regarding to gender interactions in classroom provided qualitative data for this study. The study provides a comparison of scholarly findings which explain the movement in interaction between the teachers and students in second language learning. It found that the level of interaction between the teachers and male students was low because of their tendency to be involved in misdemeanors that may not be pleasing to the teacher. This is consistent with a study by Dolton and Ammermuller (2006, p. 4) which confirmed that there is a gender effect in Sciences scores in England. This is contrary to the fact that some male students had better intellectual competences compared with female learners. There is a common finding that boys received less academic attention such as disciplinary measures from the teachers compared with girls. This has impacted their competence as well as performance in English as a foreign language. The implications of the findings to the study of English as a second language is that teachers should promote the practices of social interactions with students as means of improving their understanding of English collectively rather than focusing on a specific gender.
The study by Dolton and Ammermuller (2006, p. 4) employed systematic review of data regarding performance of students across grade 8 in both United States and United Kingdom. It intended to identify whether teacher student gender interactions exist or not. Interestingly, United States and United Kingdom are regarded as top entities promoting gender equity within learning institutions. Identifying the participation of a gender interactions in classrooms reveals much more regarding to students’ performances and the possible effect of negative social factors such as gender roles and perception as is the case in Arabic world.
Similarly, Rashidi and Naderi (2012) found that there is an impact of gender characteristics on the relations between teachers and students and that female teachers tended to be more supportive when teaching ELS students compared with male teachers who preferred to use the strategy of referential equations. The study was conducted in Iranian EFL classrooms using observation as the data collection tools. Where manner of utterances of male and female students was also identified as a factor that affects the level of interaction of the teacher with them. The study also found that there was a high tendency for female learners to use humor when interacting with teachers, which in turn resulted into the motivation of the latter to interact with them compared with male students. In classes that are dominated by male learners, there was greater tendency to initiate humor and provide more feedback to the teachers which contributed to an improvement of the level of teacher-student interactions.
Q5. What evidence is there that women are disadvantaged?
Beyond an ordinary classroom, women face a variety of disadvantages as evidenced by virtually every study sensitive to women issues. These advantages are executed by their negative perception within the Arabic society as influenced by a variety of factors such as background. A study was done at a University in Qatar by Zhenhui (2006, p. 23) based on measure of perception strategy using the Strategy Inventory for Language Learning (SILL, EFL/ESL student version). Here, patterns of language strategy use were investigated with a population of 120 Arabic speaking students who mainly studied in English. In the study, this group of women were featured a medium on high strategy users based on English as a Foreign Language (EFL). Considering that the study was based on cognitive, metacognitive, effective, memory and compensation as strategy categories, it is evident that English learning is quite low among women in Arabic societies. Another study conducted by (Rass, 2015), majorly, the study endeavored to identify the relationship the interactions between male and female teachers on both genders of students, emphasized laid on woman gender (Rass, 2015, p.37). In this study, it was conclusive that teachers generally were more interactive and open to male students relative to female students, even though the later was performing better than the former meta-analysis.
Essentially, based on interview of Arabic women pursuing learning in Canada, Hamdan (2017, P. 62) concludes that women have been forced to develop a sense of resistance to predominant thoughts that Arabic society unfairly label on them. And relative to their counterpart at home, interviewed women indicated a free will to engage and Islam and women debate something atypical. Further, an evaluation for evidence in the literature reveal how women face challenges in an Arabic society where traditions are customs are connected too strongly. Here, the study indicates that women were generally see as home makers regardless of their performance in education –which is really indicates that women interests, such as education, are not accommodated.
These findings were supported by a study conducted by Alsuwaida (2016) which reveals that Saudi Arabia society generally ignores women’s efforts in education and government systems towards the advancement of humanity. It identifies that women are generally limited the much needed freedom to education which manifests in classroom assigned gender roles and perception. Like reported by Hamdan (2017), Alsuwaida (2016) reveal that women are continuously pursuing higher education although their efforts as sense in their unmatched populace in countries such as Canada, United States, Australia and United Kingdom among others as international students. Also, it confirms that women are ready to resist any dominant socio-cultural perception to become active members of the society as revealed by Hamdan (2017, p. 61). The study participants suggest that they are willing to beat socially defined roles for women to through pursuing education; which will as well help them appeal to the change of perspective towards women in areas of cultural, social and economic development of their country. And as such, this reveals their frustration and the urge to contribute to their country’s development but they are constrained by existing social barriers including: gender roles and perception, stereotyping and negative labelling.
In Hamdan’s study (2017, p. 61), women participants unanimously reveal that the culture greatly impacted their choices and their perception of life. Nahla, one of women interviewees, reveal that a male’s education was highly regarded compared to a female which a traditional is understanding anyway. And thus, women are mentally molded and made to internalize this negative perception forcing them to lack confidence in themselves (Hamdan, 2007, p. 61). It further reports that women are generally being secluded in the Arab world as indicated by their limitation in participation in life aspects such as: economic and sociopolitical events besides education which was its basis. In the context of education, women education in Arab societies is seen as a threat to operations of the government policies which in larger sense disadvantage women.
From these studies, it is evident that the society has created an image that expects every woman to paint which essentially indicate difference with men. This social problem attached to a biological difference leads to social distinction that greatly impact negatively on women, as individuals on the disadvantaged end. According to Hamdan (2017, p. 63), women are willing to contribute actively towards cultural, economic and social development of their countries through pursuing education. However, they lack positive attitude and motivation to achieve this because of gender bias which give their male counterparts that edge.
Conclusively, it is evident that certain unconventional ways within English as a foreign Language (EFL) class contribute to social labelling, stereotyping and gender misperception. Through literature review, use of male names in sentences, case examples and pictures in EFL textbooks proofs that assigned gender roles is deeply ingrained against women in Arab society. And therefore, continues use of male oriented examples pushes women to accept that they are meant to be below male counterparts. As a result, they develop a compromised understanding that they are weak to take on new challenges through learning.
The latter has much more impact than it is fathomed. For instance, it profoundly compromises on women’s capacity to resist predominant though or expectations that the Arabic society anticipates from them. This phenomenon was highlighted by Hamdan (2016, p. 62) who reveal that Arabic women outside the Arabic society are far much easy to comment and go against any argument of treatment that is even remotely related to gender perception as opposed to their counterparts back at home. It is worth evaluating this position and of source it traces back to the society’s treatment and normalization of gender roles. For instance, back at home, Arabic women are readily exposed to patriarchal societal arrangement that essentially forces them to believe that it is a way of life. However, in women living abroad, constructed gender roles are rarely visible giving them an edge to learn and understand that some socially and culturally dominant thoughts are wrong and ought to be fought.
Negative perception towards women has had an enormous impact on their understanding of life and their capabilities to take on new challenges. Within Arabic society, women are unfairly restricted by the Islam as a religion and as a society so that women are superficial encouraged to study. Generally, this is depicted in their performance trend as evidenced by Hamdan where women living outside Arabic society indicate that male education is highly value than a woman’s. Within EFL classrooms, gender roles has greatly affected women’s attitude and motivation towards learning; hence, compromised their performance. Some studies reveal that although women outperform their male counterparts, they are still not regarded and accommodated.
Gap in Literature
From the literature, the lack of adequate statistical information demonstrating the relationship between male and female students in an EFL classroom is apparent. As a result, it is really impossible to determine factors that exactly influence high performance of male and low among women, instead of only attributing the phenomenon to negative gender perspective. I will write gap after.
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