Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Girls are out-performing boys in school

A friend recently sent me this New York Times article which confirmed what I've suspected for a while now - in many developed countries, girls are performing better in school than boys.

I won't reproduce the whole article here but here are some of the statistics quoted (this is in the US):
  • The average high school grade point average is 3.09 for girls and 2.86 for boys. Boys are almost twice as likely as girls to repeat a grade.
  • In elementary schools, about 79% of girls could read at a level deemed “proficient,” compared with 72% of boys.

  • In federal writing tests, 32% of girls are considered “proficient” or better. For boys, the figure is 16%.
The only exception to this trend is that boys still beat out girls at the very top of the curve, especially in math.

The finding seems to be paralleled in Singapore. If you look at the cut-off points for secondary schools, the girls' schools have been edging out the boys' schools. At the O levels, again the girls' schools have been churning out better results. I don't have any official numbers but anecdotally, I've found that the girls seem to be thrive in our primary school system much better than the boys.

So what's the reason for this? Just last month, I wrote a post about how the Singapore school system seems to be designed for girls but since this problem is not limited to Singapore, that can't be the only reason. I often hear parents say that boys mature later. I guess if you take "mature" to mean being able to sit still and focus for longer periods, that would be one possible explanation.

The NY Times article quoted Richard Whitmire, author of the book "Why Boys Fail" as saying that schools have increasingly emphasised verbal skills which do not play to the strengths of boys. “The world has gotten more verbal,” he writes. “Boys haven’t.” This is in line with findings on how boys' brains process language differently (and less efficiently) than girls.

The article didn't give any definite answers but one thing seems clear - poor reading habits exacerbates the problem. "Poor reading skills snowball through the grades,” writes Whitmire. “By fifth grade, a child at the bottom of the class reads only about 60,000 words a year in and out of school, compared to a child in the middle of the class who reads about 800,000 words a year.”

If that's the case, then cultivating good reading habits is even more critical than ever. If you have boys like Andre, where reading is not an activity they gravitate towards naturally, then finding books that interest them needs to take priority. As the article suggests, if it takes books with gross bits, wild adventures and explosions to get the boys to read, then so be it. As long as it gets the job done, why not?


Elan said...

Gross Bits and explosions! Yes, I ssecond that. That defintely appeals to my 11 year old son even.
I have finally managed to get him to LOVE reading CHINESE books. It's wonderful, he runs off and reads this series whenever he can and remains buried in it for hours. I scarely dare to believe my eyes.
In case you want to try it out for Andre - we borrowed it from the National Library, they're scattered around according to the titles (try KLD and HHZ) but the series is called "cai3she4shen1ling2 tong2hua4gu4shi4" (colourful forest children's stories as the literal translation). Its translated from an Italian series and involves dinosaurs, giants, elves, gnomes and goblins engaged in battles with all kinds of imaginative weapons - that's how D has learnt how to say "noxious emissions of a skunk" and "kicked on his generous posterior" in Chinese and other similar rude words. But hey! He's saying them in Chinese is all I care! :-). There is hanyu pinyin below the chinese words. The illustrations are beautiful and detailed and also labelled with the various parts s it helps them learn words more easily too.

I haven't had any experience about the difference between the learning abilities of girls vs boys; having grown up in a all-girls school and my sons being in all-boys schools. If so, I'm glad that they are in boys schools, it may be rather demoralising for boys to be always beaten by girls in class and may contribute to further deterioration or disinterest in their studies?


Anonymous said...

I heard that boys are usually better than girls in Mathematics and Science, while girls are usually better than boys in English and Mother Tongue.
But I don't think that's true.

- Jeane

monlim said...

Elan: Thanks for the rec, wow, running off to read Chinese books? Sounds like a dream come true!! I must check it out.

I think several mums of sons on my blog will extol the virtues of boys schools. It's true that in mixed schools, the girls tend to show up the boys, except funnily enough, in the top class (if there's streaming) where it's usually male dominated.

Jeane: Scientifically, there's no evidence to show that boys are better than girls in maths but there is evidence to show that girls are better than boys in languages. (See the link I posted under "findings"). Not a fair playing field huh?

Anonymous said...

Really? Wow.
Hi Monica,

I've read a book and it says that girls usually are able to do more than one thing at a time while boys are unable to do so, for example : Girls can talk while watching television, but boys need look away from the television to be able to talk.
Isn't that just incredible?

- Emily

monlim said...

Emily: Yeah, males are notoriously bad at multi-tasking. I'm sure that concept was invented by a woman!

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