” The role of gender in society is the most complicated thing I’ve ever spent a lot of time learning about, and I’ve spent a lot of time learning about quantum mechanics. ” – Randall Munroe.
Not very long ago it seemed that schools discriminated against girls. There were fewer school places for girls and more limited subject choices. It was thought, for example, that STEM education was more suitable for boys. More boys went on to pursue tertiary education while many girls settled for jobs that did not require higher education and appeared to consider marriage as the pinnacle of their aspirations. Boys did better in school and the gender gap worked to their advantage. Over time, advocates for equal educational opportunities for girls prevailed, societal views on women’s rights became more progressive, and girls focused on education as an avenue for upward social and professional mobility. Girls began to outperform boys in the classroom and some persons saw this as a threat to traditional male dominance.
Today, there is a shift in the gender paradigm in education. Male students are finding it difficult to keep up with female students in the classroom and girls generally win most of the academic awards. Girls are outperforming boys in practically every racial and ethnic group. Boys seem to have more behavioural and academic issues than girls and are more likely to drop out of school or reject university education. They tend to be suspended from school more often and lose valuable teaching and learning time in that process. As they lose ground in the classroom, boys seek other avenues to assert their masculinity, such as disruptive conduct, sports, and video games. Many of them display poor discipline and fail to take academic work seriously.
In many western countries, in which the culture and dominant religion allow boys and girls to be educated together in the same schools, coeducation is now being blamed for the gender gap in education which puts boys at a disadvantage. However, I subscribe to the school of thought which posits that coeducation in and of itself, when properly managed, is the best way to educate boys and girls and get them to understand each other and eventually learn to live and work together in greater harmony.
The real problem, I think, lies in the context of coeducation. There are contextual factors today that make coeducation much more complicated and compound any potential problems that coeducation may pose. These factors must be removed or mitigated in order to close the gender gap for boys in the classroom today.
The first of these factors is the lack of male role models for boys nowadays. There are relatively few male teachers in schools these days. Most males are no longer attracted to teaching as a profession. This may be due to the relatively small salaries, lack of real autonomy and lack of prospects for promotion in the teaching service. We must find a way to bring more male teachers back to the classrooms.
The preponderance of female teachers in our schools makes the gender gap worse for male students. The large numbers of girls in coeducational classrooms, the lack of male teachers and the resultant predominance of female teachers, combine to make many boys equate education with being feminine. Many of these teachers treat girls’ behaviour as normal and boys’ behaviour as abnormal; so boys are punished more often. This perceived injustice causes many boys to disengage from the curriculum and this widens the gender gap. There is also a lack of books that appeal to boys at school, so they do not read much. We know that reading is vital for academic progress.
Single-parent homes led by mothers with little or no input from absent fathers, add considerably to the problems faced by male students in need of good male role models. Girls are now doing better than boys from elementary school to postgraduate level in most subject areas. Research shows that female students significantly outnumber male students in universities. According to the Digest of Education Statistics 2010 (USA), enrolment in public universities showed a male – female ratio of 42.9 – 57.1. This is based on enrolment figures for 2009. Most experts project that this trend will continue, resulting in even larger proportions of female students in the future. Similar gender imbalances are seen in many European and Caribbean universities. In some cases they are more pronounced.
Interested readers should read “ Why Boys Fail: Saving Our Sons from an Educational System That’s Leaving Them Behind. ” By Richard Whitmire. 2010. This book examines boys’ educational needs. It looks at the gender gap in education and offers solutions to the problem. Whitmire argues in his book that “The education system is no longer boy-friendly.” Education is now more female-centred. He believes that ” The world has gotten more verbal; boys haven’t. ” Girls have better verbal skills in school than boys. He also contends that literacy skills are essential for higher education in any field, and here again girls have the advantage. A good review of ” Why Boys Fail ” was published through AVFMS ( A Voice For Male Students ). It was posted by Jonathan Taylor ( TCM ) in Educational Attainment & Well-Being, Key Articles, Literacy. October 23, 2013. It is imperative to do all we can to close the gender gap in education and make our classrooms more equal. We must rethink the way we educate boys in the present classroom and social context.