FOR years, teachers and schools have been told to positively discriminate in favour of girls. Feminists argue that the way schools work and the way they teach subjects give boys an unfair advantage and it's time to push girls to the front.
Wrong. The reality is that girls outperform boys. The way teachers are told to
teach and the way subjects are organised best suit the way girls learn and
leave boys at the bottom of the class.
The evidence? Take the figures from the recent OECD publication, Education at a
Glance 2012. When it comes to reading, one of the basics in education that
determines success or failure, girls are well ahead.
And the problem is not just in Australia. The OECD report states: "Girls
outperformed boys on the PISA 2009 reading assessment in every OECD country and
by 39 points on average, the equivalent of one year of school.''
Not only are girls a year ahead when it comes to reading, they are also more
ambitious when it comes to careers and they are more successful in getting into
In relation to tertiary entry, the report argues "the gender gap exceeds 20
percentage points in Australia, Denmark, Iceland, New Zealand, Norway, Poland,
Portugal, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia and Sweden''.
Australia's literacy and numeracy tests provide more evidence that girls are
With English skills, the NAPLAN 2011 report concluded "average scale scores
are higher for female students than for male students for Australia as a whole
and for every jurisdiction. The differences are substantial and consistent,
averaging 21 scale points''.
Even when it comes to maths, an area where boys traditionally have done better
than girls, the bad news is that boys' results have gone backwards. More girls
than boys are achieving at or above the national minimum standard.
Boys are also more likely to have behavioural problems, as measured by
suspensions from schools. One Australian report looking at years 7 and 9 shows
that the rate for boys, at 10.9 per cent, is almost double that for girls, at 6
The reasons boys are going backwards are many. Given the effect of the feminist
movement over the past 30 to 40 years, it shouldn't surprise that much of the
curriculum and how schools work have been feminised.
In primary schools, the fact that there are so few male teachers means boys
lack role models. New-age teaching methods such as open classrooms and teachers
acting as facilitators and not authority figures all benefit girls and not
Unlike girls, who are more adaptable, boys need structure and discipline when
it comes to how they best learn. Boys need to be told what to do, to have a
clear idea of how to do it and to have clear boundaries enforced when it comes
to discipline and classroom behaviour.
The way beginning reading is taught in early primary school provides the best
example of discrimination against boys. The more traditional method of teaching
reading involves phonics and phonemic awareness, where children are taught the
relationship between letters, groups of letters and sounds.
The new-age, progressive approach is called whole language, where children are
expected to learn how to read as naturally as learning how to talk. When it
comes to print, they are told to "look and guess'' and work out the meaning by
accompanying pictures or images.
As argued by Byron Harrison, a reading expert from Tasmania who along with Jean
Clyde published Reading Through Tears, the whole language approach is
guaranteed to disadvantage boys and lead to frustration and failure. And the
way schools wrap children in cotton wool and ban physical games also
discriminates against boys. As most parents know, boys need to have the freedom
to be physical, to let off steam and to challenge others.
The gender police are also wrong to ban boys from wearing superhero costumes to
school and from reading action comics and novels because there is too much
violence and male aggression.
As child psychologists understand, such an approach is counter-productive
because boys need strong male role models to excite their imagination and teach
them about resilience, being brave and overcoming adversity.
Prime Minister Gillard's list of disadvantaged groups includes indigenous,
working-class, rural and remote and migrant children. It's time to add boys.
Dr Kevin Donnelly is director of the Australian Education