Academic journal article International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education

Literacy among Malaysian Primary Schoolers: How Do Boys Perform Relative to Girls? *

Academic journal article International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education

Literacy among Malaysian Primary Schoolers: How Do Boys Perform Relative to Girls? *

Article excerpt

Introduction

There has been a great deal of research regarding boys' academic underachievement in the last two decades. Various terms such as "boy gap", "boy crisis", "boys' underachievement" and "failing boys" have been used to discuss their educational achievement, which has now become the focus in many countries around the globe (Cassen & Kingdon, 2007; Collins, Kenway, & McLeod, 2000; Alloway, Freebody, Gilbert & Muspratt, 2002; Gilbert, 1998; Gill, 2005; Lindsay & Muijs, 2005; Machin & McNally, 2005; Martin, 2003; Department for Education and Skills, DfES, 2007). In the United Kingdom, for example, boys had outperformed girls by about 5%, from 1987 onwards, and only about eighty boys to every hundred girls have achieved 5 high-grade passes at 16+ (Arnot & Phipps, 2003). In addition, more boys than girls fail to achieve level 4 in English national tests at the end of key stage 2 (Younger et al., 2005). At the GCSE level, girls were found to have performed at par, or even to have outshone the boys in all subjects (i.e. English, History, ICT, Mathematics, Physics, Science, Economics, Social Science, Media Studies, and French), except for the Construction subject (National Literacy Trust, 2012). Likewise, in Australia, the evidence shows that many boys are not performing well on a range of educational achievement measures, and that the gap between boys' and girls' performance has increased over time (Alloway, Freebody, Gilbert, & Muspratt, 2002; Martin, 2002; Munns et al., 2006; Slade & Trent, 2000). Such is also the case in the East Asia and Pacific countries, including the Philippines, Thailand, and Malaysia (UNESCO, 2009; United Nations Girls' Education Initiative UNGEI, 2012).

In Malaysia, it has been observed that boys are not achieving very well in many subjects as shown in the national examination results at all three levels of schooling-primary, lower secondary, and upper secondary-and that in almost all school subjects, girls perform better than boys (Preliminary Report - Executive Summary Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025, 2012; Zalizan Mohd Jelas, Saemah Rahman, Roselan Baki, & Jamil Ahmad, 2005). This trend continues to the university, where statistics show that female students far outnumber male students in undergraduate programs, with a significant ratio of 65% girls to 35% boys (Rohaty Mohd Majzub & Maisarah Muhammad Rais, 2010a, 2010b). Current statistics also show that the ratio of female to male university graduates is at 60:40 (Educational Planning and Research Division, 2012; Raina Ng, 2011).

Literacy and Its Relationship to Academic Achievement

Research suggests that low academic achievement is closely linked to the lack of strong literacy skills, as students with poor literacy skills will struggle not only in school, but also throughout life (Clark & Burke, 2012; National Literacy Trust, 2012). Having strong literacy skills is essential for success in school and beyond because literacy is "the prerequisite to academic achievement", which requires that students "read and write across a wide variety of disciplines, genres, and materials with increasing skill, flexibility and insight" (Snow & Biancarosa, 2003, p. 5) as well as to read, understand, and learn from an increasing level of demanding texts, which require that they master words and vocabulary, expand their knowledge, and also be able to think in an open and critical way (Chall & Jacobs, 2003). Research also indicates that strong literacy skills in children are developed when they are given early experiences with reading, as this contributes to later success or failure in learning to read (Ferreiro & Teberosky, 2009). Indeed, there is strong evidence to indicate that the consequences of a slow start in literacy become enormous over time and continue to adulthood without the proper intervention (Grossen, 1997; Slavin & Madden, 1989). Given the importance of literacy and its relationship to academic achievement, it is important to ensure that students master these skills during their early school years. …

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