Austria Challenging Gender Stereotypes

The practice that is being quality assured

The Hertha Firnberg School for Business and Tourism in Vienna provides initial training for approximately 800 students, two-thirds of whom are female. As part of its mission to challenge gender stereotypes, the school has introduced a course in Computer Science Management in partnership with the Technical University of Applied Sciences in Vienna. This course has attracted more male students and encouraged female students to consider alternative careers.

Nearly 30 years ago the school started as a traditional upper vocational girls’ school. The school’s curriculum were modernised many years ago and no longer resembles a typical girls’ program. However the school always had a low male student population (approx. 10 – 15 per cent of students). This led the school to develop a new Computer Science Management programme which includes:

  • innovative science and IT programs (a novelty in this type of school);
  • demanding language programs (English and Russian);
  • solid training in business practices.

Working with the Technical University of Applied Sciences helped to ensure the quality of the program. This partnership includes

  • joint development of curriculum by staff at theHertha Firnberg School and the University
  • part of the training takes place at the University
  • team teaching: IT and science classes are taught by teams of teachers from the University and the Hertha Firnberg School.

The percentage of male students on this course is considerably higher in other classes in this traditionally female school (30-50 per cent of students are male compared to the usual 10-15 per cent). The course is an attractive offer for young women who prefer to abandon traditional career paths. At the same time, this course encourages young men to enrol in a traditional girls’ school which has a strong emphasis on languages.

The VET providers approach to quality assurance

The Hertha Firnberg School is integrated into the Austrian VET Quality Initiative, QIBB, launched by the General Directorate for Vocational Education and Training, Adult Education and School Sport of the Austrian Federal Ministry for Education, Arts and Culture.

Under the leadership of the school director, the school’s quality managers coordinate all aspects of quality assurance. They work with steering groups of teachers and students to introduce, manage and evaluate new approaches to quality assurance. All members of the steering groups receive regular training and share their knowledge with their colleagues.

All the quality themes developed by the school’s quality managers are integrated in the official quality cycle and are continuously revised and improved. In addition, regular staff events help to maintain the enthusiasm and motivation of both students and teachers and thus promote the topic inside and outside the school.

What challenges were overcome?

  • convincing the school authorities to invest in the new course. The new course also helped to address the ongoing decline in student enrolment at traditional technical schools
  • allocating enough funds to start the program and find business partners
  • gaining agreement with the Technical University of Applied Sciences
  • encourage enough students to enrol in this new program in the first year of operation
  • convincing teachers that the new program would be a success
  • introducing Russian as a second language as this would enrich the school’s offer to students
  • managing in an environment of budget austerity
  • ensuring the course curriculum was within the rules established for all national programs
  • team teaching involving school and university staff revealed numerous challenges in relation to employment contracts

What were the lessons learnt?

  • the first year of the programme is the most challenging
  • any new programme needs enough resources to work well
  • coaching and training of teachers is vital to the success of the programme

Which learners have benefited?

As well as the students taking the course, the cooperation is both beneficial to Hertha Firnberg School and to the Technical University of Applied Sciences, as teachers from both institutions gain a valuable insight into the work of their partner.

The course has helped to develop a reciprocal understanding of the challenges and requirements facing secondary and tertiary education. This increased understanding and knowledge can be used to improve the transition process from secondary to tertiary education and helps to improve the curricula and teaching methods of secondary education. Innovating, inspiring and gender-sensitive teaching methods will need to form the basis of future-oriented science and IT classes in secondary schools.

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