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Desperate for a solution, the Rowville school turned to its library, an outdated space full of books that didn’t interest boys.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