June 28th 2003

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Counting Stalin's victims 50 years on

EDITORIAL: Australia's population challenge

PACIFIC: Solomon Islands: nightmare in paradise

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Why the Crean-Beazley issue is unresolved

ENVIRONMENT: Climate scientists reject Kyoto Protocol

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Labor mates / Night to remember / Heart of darkness / Intervention

EUTHANASIA: Stopping Australia's Doctor Death

Sugar price decline (letter)

Free trade deal and local shareholders (letter)

TIMOR L'ESTE: Looming food shortage in East Timor

AGRICULTURE: National water trading plan questioned

FAMILY LAW: Canadian court changes definition of marriage

EDUCATION: The problem with boys ...

South African economic miracle?

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The problem with boys ...

by Babette Francis

News Weekly, June 28, 2003
In 1977, I wrote a Minority Report as a member of the Victorian Committee on Equal Opportunity in Schools, in which I highlighted the fact that it was not girls but boys who were disadvantaged in education, and indeed in most areas of life.

Twenty-five years later my conclusions were confirmed by the Federal parliamentary report on the education of boys, "Boys: Getting it right" (October 2002), an inquiry which was instigated by growing concern throughout Australia about the failures of males in the education system.

One of the important submissions to the Federal parliamentary inquiry was by the Australian Council for Educational Research. (ACER). Researcher Ken Rowe said an ACER study confirmed what many studies had shown:

"The evidence indicating that boys on average achieve significantly lower levels than girls on all areas of the assessed cognitive curriculum throughout their primary and secondary schooling is not in dispute. In the early years of schooling, boys constitute between 75 and 85 per cent of those children identified at risk of poor achievement progress in literacy".

It was known back in 1975 during the tenure of the Victorian Committee on Equal Opportunity in Schools that boys outnumbered girls 4: 1 among students requiring remediation in basic literacy skills.

Indeed a sub-committee of the Victorian Committee recommended that programs of remediation should be vigilantly implemented in primary school as concepts of "equal opportunity" were meaningless for those students who could not read or write.

However, because of the data on which this recommendation was based, i.e. that it was more boys than girls who were in need of remediation, the recommendation was deleted.

It was quite contrary to the feminist mindset of the members of the main Committee to have any recommendation that benefitted boys, or indeed to allow any hint that it was not females who were the victims of an oppressive patriarchal system that kept women in servitude. Showing that girls had superior literacy skills and a 15% higher success rate in HSC exams would have blown the feminist mythology to smithereens.

Confirmation of another of my recommendations, that in view of sex differences (which feminists will not acknowledge), ACER be asked to report on the comparative achievement of students in single-sex and co-educational schools, has come from a NSW study which found that separating primary school children into single-sex classes has helped reduce the literacy gap between girls and boys.

A ground-breaking trial to separate primary school pupils into single-sex classes has helped to reduce the literary gap between boys and girls. Griffith Public School in south-west NSW split up pupils durings years 4 and 5 in an effort to address early literacy problems among boys.

Findings from the two-year-trial which ended last year showed that literacy scores for both sexes improved, with the boys slightly catching up to the girls. Results from the Basic Skills Test sat by pupils in year 3 and year 5 used by Charles Sturt University to evaluate the trial, showed that pupils who had performed the most poorly in year 3 had shown a huge improvement by year 5.

On average, the students' results in Year 5 were more than 6% better than their results two years earlier.

Teacher Bob Willetts, who taught the boys' class for two years, said he encouraged his pupils in literacy by allowing them to read articles on sports figures and current affairs. "They really enjoyed reading material they were interested in", he said. "If the content doesn't interest them, they won't tune in". Mr Willetts said some boys were now so confident with thir literacy skills they had entered the year's Australian Spelling Championships.

The Griffiths Public School trial has received positive feedback from parents, who said their children were learning better and were less intimidated of speaking up. Girls' parents said classes were quieter and there were fewer distractions.

Teacher Angela Barnes who taught the girls' class for six months said she would support reintroducing the single-sex classes in the future. "Academically it was exciting", she said. "Behaviour was not an issue with the girls. They get a lot more done and a lot more one on one".

As many schools are co-educational for economic rather than academic reasons, I had suggested that single-sex classes could be held on a co-ed campus. This is what Haileybury College, Melbourne is now undertaking.

Haileybury's boys and girls are enrolled in two schools but they share the same sites and facilities such as libraries and music centres. Children attend co-ed classes until Year 4 but single-sex classes are being introduced in Year 5 and beyond.

My own view is that single-sex classes may be beneficial from Year l as the developmental differences between girls and boys can be significant at that stage. Undoubtedly having four sons and four daughters of my own gave me some 'hands-on' experience, although I was frequently reminded by the other members of the Victorian Committee on Equal Opportunity in Schools that I had no qualifications in education.

Until 2000 Haileybury was a boys' school, but by 2007 it will offer girls' classes up to year 12. Haileybury Principal, Robert Pargetter, said "parallel education" had the advantages of single-sex tuition and the benefits of boys and girls sharing a school community. He said the popularity of the "parallel" model resulted in waiting lists for the next three years' enrolments.

Head of the federal parliamentary inquiry into boys' education, Mr Kerry Bartlett, MHR, said there was evidence that boys were more motivated to study and more confident in classes without girls.

Of course recommending single-sex classes is anathema to the feminist lobby in education, who do not like any distinction on the basis of sex.

Indeed one of their reports in the seventies, "Girls, School and Society" recommended that government funding be cut from schools that "discriminate", and heading the list of "discriminations" was single-sex schooling.

It is nice even if somewhat belatededly, to be vindicated after 25 years ("I told you so!") but it is a tragedy for those boys who "slipped through the safety net" of remedial classes in literacy skills and who may be unemployed and unemployable now.

The problem with boys and education seems to occur in all English-speaking democracies.

In the USA, African-American women are in universities at double the number of African-American men. Males who are functionally illiterate and unemployed become alienated from society and are very vulnerable to being involved in crime and other anti-social behaviours.

Women, even poorly educated women, always have a biological role. recognized by society, as mothers. We deprive men of their earner-provider role at our peril.

  • Babette Francis
    Victorian Committee on Equal Opportunity in Schools, 1975-77

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