Boy’s Education

There was an interesting discussion regarding boys education on the Jim Mora afternoon show on yesterday. It followed the release of the revamped Fairfax Compare Your Child’s School Results to Another School They Will Never Go To website. We can argue whether publishing the NCEA results of students across the country to compare is a valuable exercise in increasing educational outcomes for young New Zealanders (to paraphrase Hekia-jargon), but the findings suggest, yet again, boys are underachieving when compared to girls.

Panelist Neil Miller pointed out that there are many differences between boys and girls. His view was girls are more cooperative and better at explaining reasons behind things while guys were better at calculations, logic, science and maths. He also suggested that you can’t lump everyone in together (as everyone seems to be doing in education)

There was also a suggestion that the idea of achieving highly might be considered nerdy and peer pressure might be a reason boys were flagging it. That is, boys aren’t really bothered by performing academically. As we always said at my school, and during my first stint at university, “C for congratulations.” A pass is a pass.

Why waste your time studying when you can pass with flying colours by doing literally nothing.

Stephen Arnold, AUT Education Lecturer, was the expert brought in to discuss further. Mora asked him about this problem and why it was getting worse. Arnold answered with a great quote:

It’s getting worse because the way we are looking at it is getting more and more extreme. If we want to acknowledge that boys and girls are different why are we using the same tools to measure them. And if we want to say boys and girls are the same then the differences must be due to something else. But if we keep focusing on the same statistics again and again, trying to prove one way or the other that boys and girls are the same, boys and girls are different, then this is why the gap keeps looking like it’s widening.

He had some very interesting points to make. If boys are so disinterested in reading and achieving in this area then you would think that would flow through to employment opportunities for men and actually the reverse is true. Men have all the opportunities despite their underachievement.

He also pointed out that reading is very recent thing in society. If we think back to pre-mass-schooling when the majority of the population were illiterate. Nobody except the clergy, university toffs, the wealthy and politicians had time to learn to read. The rest of us had to get on with pulling coal out of mines or ploughing fields or working the mills or whatever. Reading wasn’t important. Providing for our families was.

Ultimately it’s not that boys are underachieving, it’s that they are achieving differently. And the way we are measuring the achievement is far more literary than it used to be.

As a boy coming into teaching later in life I’ve always thought we work in a very sit down, reading and writing world. It’s the expectation of teachers and parents and media. I, and the boys in my class would prefer doing stuff. I will make it my mission to do this more.

It certainly got me thinking…

Listen to the panel discussion here. This discussion comes in during the second half – about 14 minutes in.


School Report –

Afternoons with Jim Mora – Radio New Zealand


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