Minding the gender gap: how schools are trying to stop boys falling behind

Triplets (from left) Aidan, Bailey and Corey say they are reading more after their school library’s makeover. Photo: Joe ArmaoThe gender gap reared its ugly head in the testresults.
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Most boys at Park Ridge Primary School lagged behind girls in reading, writing, spelling, grammar and punctuation in NAPLAN.

Desperate for a solution, the Rowville school turned to its library, an outdated space full of books that didn’t interest boys.

“Boys weren’t reading for enjoyment,” said Anna Christofis, the school’s leading literacy teacher. “So wesurveyed students and identified which authors they connected with.”

The school refurbished the space, stocking the shelves with books about extreme sports, elite athletes, cars and graphic novels.

Co-ed schools arerolling out initiatives geared towards boys in a bid to help them educationally and socially.

Boys areless likely to complete year 12 and more of themaresuspended and expelled.

Park Ridge Primary School worked to get boys reading more for enjoyment. Photo: Joe Armao

A recent study found that one in five year 3 boys hasan emotional or behavioural problem that leads them to lag ayear behind their peers in reading and numeracy.

A greater proportion of Victorian girls meet the national minimum standard in all areas of NAPLAN, including numeracy.

And malesare outnumbered by female students at university.

Triplets Aidan, Bailey and Corey said the library makeover at their school hadinspired them to read more.

“There’s more books to choose from,” Aidan said. “There are books that entertain me.”

The 10-year-old brothers are also improving their reading and writing skills through the school’s literacy program for grade 4 boys.

Assistant principal Adele Gregson meets themtwo times a week, one on one, and helps them decode words, discuss texts and select books suitable for their skills.

“We wantto engage them and support them with the development of their reading skills,” she said.

A focus on girls’ education in the 1980s led to a higher proportion of girls finishing year 12 and pursuing tertiary education. It also helped close the achievement gap between boys and girls in maths.

The focus now needs to shift to boys, according to Marymede Catholic College deputy principal Tracey Kift.

Her co-edschool in South Morang recently employed a counsellor who specialises in mentoring adolescent boys. He has been running sessions with year 9 and 10 boys about organisation, self-esteem and regulating emotions.

The school has also been providing training for teachers on educatingboys.

“The education system has valued compliance,” Ms Kiftsaid. “But boys tend to becharacterised as more significant risk takers. We need to capitalise on those tendencies for boys to push boundaries.”

Monash University senior lecturer David Zyngier said the notion of boys and girls having different learning styles had been debunked.

But he said boysdeveloped more slowly than girls.

“It is scientifically shown that boys develop more slowly with language,” he said.

Amanda Keddie, a professor of education at Deakin University, said that while girls performed well at school, they faced huge inequities when they graduated, including lower pay and high rates of violence.

Tackling inequity in education was more complicated than focusing on gender, she said.

“Gender is not the most accurate predictor of educational disadvantage, but it does matter.”

Warning over commonly prescribed immunosuppressant after two die

Patients taking a commonly prescribed immunosuppressantare being urged to consult their doctor after two people using it died during a clinical study.
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Methylprednisolone, first used in the 1950s, is a commonly prescribed drugfor a wide range of conditions including arthritis, allergies and cancer. But it also has potentially dangerousside-effects.

Experts sayanyone using it should continue, as it is dangerous to stop using the drug suddenly.

Methylprednisolone was first used in the 1950s.

But ProfessorVladoPerkovic​, oneof the authors ofthestudy, which was released last month, advised users to see their doctor to “ask if the benefits of this treatment outweigh the risk”.

The clinical study involved researchers from the NSW-based George Institute for Global Healthpartnering with researchers in China. The study set out to test whether methylprednisolone was an effective treatment for IgA nephropathy, a kidneydisease also known as Berger’s disease.

The immunosuppressant is sometimes used to treat the condition, despite there being no convincing clinical trials supporting its use.

IgA nephropathy is a common autoimmune condition affecting 1 to 2 per cent of the population. It damages the filtering ability of the kidneys; sufferers often find blood in their urine. In about 30 per cent of cases it leads to kidney failure.

Despite a lot of work, specific treatments for the condition are still lacking.

The researchers followed 262 IgA patients from and China for three years.Half were given the drug and half were given a placebo. They planned to eventually enrol 1300 patients.

But the trial had to be stopped early when 20 people in the methylprednisolonegroup suffered “serious adverse events”. Among this group two died, 11contracted serious infections, two suffered gastrointestinal bleeding andtwo suffered bone-tissue death.

“Participants were more prone to catching infections, and if they got an infection it was much stronger than it otherwise would have been,” Professor Perkovic said.

“Two patients treated ended up dying,” he said.

“We weren’t expecting risks anywhere near this large.”

The study, published in the peer-reviewedJournal of the American Medical Association, found the rate of serious adverse effects was five times higher in the group taking the treatment. However, the study also found evidence the drug might prevent serious kidney damage in IgA nephropathy.

Independent experts say the study reinforces what is known about methylprednisolone: it is effective but potentially dangerous.

“The results are not surprising,” said Monash Medical Centre director of nephrology Professor Peter Kerr.

“One of the reasons we have not used it in the past is the treatment may be worse than the disease.

“Like many medications when you give it, it has a risk-benefit assessment. If you had someone who was deteriorating quickly, you might use it.”

Kidney Health ‘s clinical director Dr Shilpa Jesudason​ encouraged anyone using the drug to consult their doctor to ensure it was still right for them.

“This study is a good reminder that we should be assessing the risk profile of methylprednisoloneevery time before it is administed.”

The country where the pursuit of happiness is a national, economic goal

Thimphu, Bhutan:Given significant levels of dissatisfaction with the performance of politicians in Western democracies, what can we learn from a country that assesses all of its government policies based on how much they contribute to the happiness of its people?
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Looking at the stats, Disneyland may have to give up its claim to being The Happiest Place on Earth. Bhutan’s recent Gross National Happiness Index found 91 per cent of its citizens are happy, with almost 50 per cent of people being deeply happy or extensively happy.

Come to the think of it, Disney’s claim to being The Magic Kingdom also gets a run for its money from Bhutan. With its mist-shrouded mountains, ubiquitous monks and universal acceptance of reincarnation, there is a real sense of magic here.

The story of the monarchy rivals any Cinderella, Mulan or Pocahontas tale. A benevolent king devolves his power to a democratically elected parliament. He then resigns early to hand over the role to his handsome son and his glamorous, humble and compassionate princess. Together the family lives in a couple of single-level bungalows in the nation’s capital, Thimphu, having refused overtures from the parliament to build them a grand palace.

Photos of the young king, his queen and their new son adorn most houses and businesses. These are not stiff monarchical portraits, rather they could be snaps from a family album, with the young couple kissing, holding hands or, together with the former king, playing with the young prince.

This is not a place caught in time warp – there has never been anywhere like Bhutan. This is a unique Himalayan kingdom whose borders have never been invaded and who only opened to the world some 40 years ago.

A daughter of Bhutan. Photo: Scott Woodward

In 1979 the then-king captured the world’s imagination when he said in an interview “we do not believe in gross national product. Gross national happiness is more important”.

This is different to theWorld Happiness Reportasurvey of the state of global happinesswhich ranks 155 countries by their happiness levels, and this year putNorway at the top of the list, with in ninth.

The results of Bhutan’s focus on the happiness of its citizens speak for themselves. Bhutan is one of the top 20 fastest-growing economies in the world (6.5 per cent last year). It was the only country in South Asia to meet all of the UN Millennium Goals. It has a free press, a good education system and there is universal free healthcare.

Not bad for a country that, up until the 1960s, had no national currency, no telephones, no schools, no hospitals, no postal service and no public services.

The Taktsang Monastery in Bhutan. Photo: Steven Berry

It is the only country in the world that is actually increasing its level of forest cover – 72 per cent, with the constitution enshrining that the level can never drop below 60 per cent.

While it has its share of troubles: high national debt, stubborn youth unemployment and a recent border dispute with China, it does make a claim to being a real-life Shangri-La.

Bhutan has no traffic lights and no advertising billboards. Cars are banned from city roads one day each month to reduce carbon emissions. The country absorbs three times as much carbon as it emits. On the food side, the government is close to achieving its goal of becoming the world’s first wholly organic country.

Just celebrating the eighth birthday of its parliament, it is one of the youngest democracies in the world and, according to the Global Peace Index, it has very low levels of corruption.

Spinning a prayer wheel helps accumulate wisdom and good karma in Bhutan. Photo: Nick Abrahams

Buddhist philosophies are at the core of this country. Its national prosperity and security over the centuries is put down to not so much their “external soldiers”, as the army is known, but the power of the “internal army”, being the 12,000-strong Buddhist monk population. While there is a sharp decline in numbers joining religious orders in the West, in Bhutan more people than ever are joining to become monks and nuns.

A core value is the good treatment of all sentient beings, including animals. Stray dogs are everywhere, but unlike mange-riddled street dogs in other developing countries, these dogs are surprisingly fit and healthy, barking not to be menacing but in the hopes of picking up a friendly pat. They used to have a zoo but it was closed down as it was not a natural environment for the animals.

The concept of Gross National Happiness is a major driver of government policy and the GNH Index done in 2010 and most recently in 2015 is a tangible way of measuring success.

The GNH Index is not a simple survey of wellbeing. It is not Pharrell Williams euphoric dancing in the street-style happiness that is being measured. Rather it measures prosperity, using nine domains including the physical and emotional health of its people, the strength of communities and the condition of the natural environment.

Bhutan’s 10-year plan states “the GNH Index is a critical evaluation tool for results-based planning …to ensure that development truly contributes to the achievement of GNH”. This has been echoed by the Prime Minister,Tshering Tobgay, including in a TED talk.

According to Tshewang Tandin, the director-general of Bhutan’s Royal Institute of Management, “people need to have certain subsistence needs met first, adequate food, shelter, healthcare and so on. After that, the GNH Index is a way of measuring real wellbeing of people – their true contentment”.

People walk near a billboard of the Chinese military reading “courageous”, in Beijing, last month. Beijing is intensifying its warnings to Indian troops to get out of a contested region high in the Himalayas where China, India and Bhutan meet. Photo: AP

Bhutan sits as a beacon of peace and prosperity in a world that has become increasingly fractured and unpredictable.

But it is not all fairytale. The kingdom has its challenges. Most serious is arecent Chinese road-building project in the Doklam Plateau, an area on the disputed border between Bhutan and China. Given the proximity of the area, India has responded strongly leading to yet another significant dispute between China and the maturing global superpower.

Economically, Bhutan needs to diversify its revenue base from its hydro-electric power exports to India, which have been the engine room of its economic prosperity. The investment in hydro projects has led to national debt levels outside normal International Monetary Funds (IMF) thresholds.

General unemployment is at an enviable 2.5 per cent, down from 36 per cent in 2000, thanks to targeted government policies including skills programs and incentives for small businesses, especially in rural areas. The problem issue is youth unemployment, sitting at 9.6 per cent.

Bhutan is a country of contrasts. From the solemn sight of devout followers, with shoes on their hands for protection as they make kneeling prostrations every step of long pilgrimages, to youths with boy-band haircuts, traditional dress and mobile phones.

“We are doing a staged transition to a modern economy while protecting our culture,” says Dasho Karma, president of the Centre for Bhutan Studies, then noting with a chuckle that his daughters were out that afternoon to see a touring Korean pop band.

The US Declaration of Independence says governments need to protect the inalienable right of humans to live their lives in the “pursuit of happiness”.

Management thinker Peter Drucker said “you can’t manage what you can’t measure”. So perhaps it is incumbent on governments to measure their success in terms of the happiness of their citizens.

Nick Abrahams is a lawyer, author and entrepreneur. He leads the APAC Innovation Practice for Norton Rose Fulbright and is a director of global think-tank The Institute for Economics and Peace. He was in Bhutan for the launch of the institute’s 2017 Global Peace Index.

Matildas great Cheryl Salisbury collects PFA’s Alex Tobin Medal in Newcastle

Cheryl happy to see Matildas in spotlight HONOURED: Cheryl Salisbury with her PFA Alex Tobin Medal at Merewether on Sunday night. Her dress is by Q’nique from Atelier Rose at The Junction and her earrings from Williams the Jewellers, The Junction. Picture: Local FC
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HONOURED: Cheryl Salisbury with her PFA Alex Tobin Medal at Merewether on Sunday night. Dress by Q’nique from Atelier Rose at The Junction. Earrings from Williams the Jewellers, The Junction. Picture: Local FC


“We’ve got such a good breeding ground.Matildas who went through my era,there was myself, Bridgette Starr, Michelle Prouten, Amber Neilson, Lauren Colthorpe, Katie Gill.

“Newcastle has a big history of women’s football, so to bring it to Newcastle on the back of a sellout in Penrith, I think it’s going to be huge.”

Salisbury played in an era when female stars would get changed on the bus because there were no dressing rooms for women, and her national teammates would tape over worn boots because they had no sponsors.But she is conscious that, despite recent improvements in pay and conditions in and overseas, elite female players are still light years behind their male counterparts.

“Do I wish I was 16, 17? Absolutely. There’s a lot of challenges along the way to try and play andsupport yourself.Yes, you can work and play, but you need to find an employer willing to give youfive or six months off at the drop of a hat.”

The world No.6 Matildas beat the USA for the first time, Japan and Brazil at the Tournament of Nations.

“Everyone loves a winning team, but I think the girls have started to put those together back-to-back,” Salisbury said.

The modern Matildas had done a “great job” of carrying on the work of promoting the women’s game.

“They’ve proved at the weekend they can sell out a stadium. It just never got really tried before.

“I don’t think people put in enough effort and belief.”

Politicians who voted for Parliament House fence alarmed now they’ve seen it

The giant steel fence slowly encircling Parliament House is a “monstrosity” and risks furtheralienating the public from their representatives, one of the few politicians to vote against the fortification says.
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Construction workers placed the first2.6-metre steel panels across the upper reaches of the building’s sloping roof this week, withwork to acceleratebefore MPs return to Canberra in mid-October.Large gum trees have also been chopped down, and manicuredlawnsripped up to dig trenches for the structure.

The fence – and a series of new guardhouses –will eventually seal off vast stretches of the Parliament’s exterior currently accessibleto the public. The security overhaulwill cost taxpayers$126 million.

The security fence is installed across the lawns of Parliament House in Canberra. Photo: Andrew Meares

Workers install the first panels across the building’s sloping lawns. Photo: Andrew Meares

Fairfax Media has spoken with a number of MPs who voted for the fence but arealarmed by the scale of the structurenow they’ve seen it.None would criticise the project publicly because they still acceptsecuritytook priority overthe symbolism of broad public access to “the people’s house”.

But Greens leader Richard Di Natale said he was stunned by theimpact of the fence and questioned why it was being built.

“The fence is an absolute monstrosity,” Senator Di Natale said. “It goes against everything this building was designed to represent when it was built but it’s a perfect symbol of where politics is at these days.

“Most politicians want to wall themselves off from ordinary people as much as humanly possible, and this fence is just a physical representation of that trend. It’s everything that’s wrong with the political establishment.”

Of the 226 MPs, includingsenators, in Parliament, just nine voted against the fence: Senator DiNatale, his Greens colleagues, and independent senatorDerrynHinch.

The project has been shrouded in secrecy since it was announced in December last year, with the Senate president Stephen Parry, House of Representatives speaker Tony Smith and parliamentary officials refusing to release exact costings, designs or any security advice to justify the upgrade. These details were released for earlier security upgrades.

MPs were given secret briefings about the fence last year prior to the plan being rushed through both houses of Parliament in December. Fairfax Media understands MPs were not told nearly two dozen towering gum trees would be chopped down around the building, and there is a dispute about whether the final appearance of the fence reflects the briefings.

The upgrades were prompted by the 2014 terror attacks against the Canadian Parliament.