Give the Boys a Break

By Donnelly, Kevin | Review - Institute of Public Affairs, December 2002 | Go to article overview
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Give the Boys a Break

Donnelly, Kevin, Review - Institute of Public Affairs

Education Agenda

Is there a crisis in boys' education?

Judged by the recently released report, Boys: Getting it right, the answer is 'yes'. Whether it is retention rates, Year 12 results, being able to read and write, or the incidence of behavioural problems leading to suspension and `dropping out', boys, when compared with girls, are increasingly at risk.

To quote from the aforementioned report, prepared by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Education and Training:

* nationally, girls' results in Year 3 and Year 5 Literacy Benchmark tests are up to five percentage points higher than boys;

* the Year 12 retention rate for girls is between 11 and 12 percentage points higher than it is for boys;

* girls' average levels of achievement in a majority of subjects assessed at senior secondary level are higher, and the gap in the total has been widening...; and

* over 56 per cent of students in higher education are women.

Why are boys disadvantaged? The first thing to note, as highlighted in the report, is that the way literacy is taught guarantees failure for many boys. Until the advent of `whole language' (where children are taught to `look and guess'), literacy was taught in a more structured way associated with a phonics approach.

Whole language is based on the mistaken belief that learning to read and write is as 'natural' as learning to speak and that all that teachers need to do is to 'immerse' children in a rich language environment. Forgotten is that writing is 'unnatural' and that boys, in particular, need to be taught in a more methodical, systematic way.

A second reason why boys are disadvantaged results from the `feminization' of the curriculum. During the '80s and '90s, the status quo in schools was attacked by feminists, left-wing academics and teacher unions as `ethnocentric, patriarchal and bourgeois'.

At the national level, documents such as Gender Equity: A Framework for Australian Schools (1997), argued in favour of positive discrimination for girls. The assumption was that society was male-dominated and that women were oppressed and disadvantaged.

Research projects funded by the Federal Department of Employment, Education and Training (DEET) covered topics such as: construction of gender in preschool to grade 3 classrooms, the role of romance stories in promoting femininity, and how to promote a `politically correct' view of family studies.

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