Vocational Programs Fail To Meet Needs of Rural Women

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Rural women are entering the paid labor force in record numbers, a surprising number are self-employed, and many more than labor statistics show are "silent partners" in family businesses or farming.

Yet vocational education for rural women often fails to address the work that rural women do or could do, suggest researchers in a report sponsored by the National Institute of Education (nie).

While vocational programs have traditionally taught rural women to be homemakers, or employees in low-level jobs, or both, the women "need training in marketing, management, accounting, and tax planning" because they are often, in fact, managers, employers, and entrepreneurs on farms, in small businesses, and in cottage industries, the researchers report.

Moreover, self-employment, by starting a business, is often the best way to find challenging work in areas with limited employment possibilities.

Rural women employees, the report points out, tend to occupy sex-segregated jobs, earning half the salaries of their male counterparts, with little chance for advancement.

These circumstances present vocational-education planners "a clear challenge," writes Faith Dunne in one of the five papers in the report, since the planners must work within communities whose values may not support nontraditional training for women.

Statistics show that more than half the rural women in the country occupy or seek paid jobs and aspire to careers and that young rural women are as well-educated as their urban counterparts.

But the women themselves sometimes have conflicting ideas about their own futures, wanting on the one hand to hold challenging jobs, and on the other to be full-time homemakers.

In trying to address the vocational needs of rural women, educators ''find themselves whipsawed--torn between the pressures of the state6and federal governments and the express desires of the community," Ms. Dunne, who is a professor of education at Dartmouth College, concludes in her study of vocational education in rural secondary schools.

Most likely to affect the number of rural high-school women enrolling in nontraditional job training programs are the interactions of teachers', students', and employers' attitudes, what Ms. Dunne terms the "critical complex."

Based on "promising" steps in some of the school systems she stud

ied, Ms. Dunne recommends improving career counseling for women students, re-educating of vocational teachers and employers about woman students' potential job performance, and developing programs that are "sex-neutral" and programs that teach entrepreneurial skills.

The National Institute of Education report, entitled "Brake Shoes, Backhoes, and Balance Sheets: The Changing Vocational Education of Rural Women" is available from Rural American Women, 1522 K Street, N.W. Washington 20005, for $7, ($15 for institutions).

Vol. 01, Issue 10

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