Boys versus Girls
For centuries, boys have outshone girls in every aspect of schooling – from their first day in formal education, up until the point of graduation at university level. However, the modern trend has seen a sharp shift in achievement levels and girls are now more likely to exceed their male counterparts. Why?
Many teachers and scholars argue that the primary reason for female success is that they tend to read far more often and more broadly than boys do; in recent decades boys have moved away from books and have been drawn towards video games and other technology. There is a strong correlation between reading proficiency and academic success and so it is not surprising that those more inclined to read for pleasure, generally girls, are more likely to succeed.
Generally, girls are also more diligent. They take pleasure in completing homework, learning outside of the classroom and in meeting the expectations of their teachers and parents. This is not to say that boys do not intend to do the same but often they become more easily distracted or deterred by outside factors or, in some cases, are ‘programmed’ to be less persistent.
Linked to this are the differing attitudes boys and girls usually hold with regards to competition and failure. For years, governing bodies have sought to reduce competition in the classroom as research suggested many children weren’t able to cope with the feeling of ‘failure’ often attributed to not coming first. The new British curriculum has stated clearly, in contrast, that competition is a key element of teaching children to reach through the glass ceiling and to persist in the face of a challenge; the argument here is that if parents and teachers nurture children to develop resilience, they will be better equipped to face adult life (and all its peaks and troughs) in the future. Not coming first, not being the best or not outshining the competition, however, are often emotions that boys – biologically programmed to seek that alpha status – are not good at dealing with. Therefore, it is often girls who supersede their male peers in a classroom environment.
Finally, cultural stereotypes can inform children’s attitudes to learning even at a very young age. Boys achieved higher than girls prior to the 1960s and 70s, before a surge in feminism cemented women’s status as equal to men’s. Girls were taught that stupidity was attractive and were given academic guidance based on a limited future in a patriarchal society. As time has moved on, girls have been fortunate enough to witness successful women in all types of fields, inspiring them every day to aim higher and achieve their full potential. In contrast, boys have been left without many young, aspirational role models; if they have no one to relate to, no one to tell them or show them that their education matters – why will they care? Hand in hand with this is the fact that primary schools (in particular) are dominated by female teaching staff and although boys will love, respect and learn from their female teachers, they are once again lacking that example that school is ‘cool’.
So what can we do? In my experience it’s about making things relevant to boys as well as girls. When teaching measurement for example, ask them questions such as: Spiderman shoots his web 3m to the first building and 6m to the next – how far has he travelled? Additionally, shower them with opportunities to show case their achievements; look beyond the often less than perfect handwriting and compliment them on the content of what they’ve written. Finally, it is well documented that boys respond extremely well to praise and motivational rewards so give them a goal to work towards, instill that sense of competition and nurture their work ethic, without exposing them to the worries of coming up short.
It’s a difficult topic as it is almost inevitable that by catering to one gender, parents and teachers are neglecting the other. The key? Balance.
The Arcadia Preparatory School is one of the leading British school in Dubai that focuses on developing both male and female student analytical skills to excel in life.
By Emily O’Neill, Year 1 Class Teacher, The Arcadia Preparatory School