Bringing the boys back on board

2014-06-30 00:00

HISTORICALLY, boys have performed better than girls academically, particularly in maths and science. However, there seems to be a shift as we now find that girls are sailing past their male counterparts.

For instance, in a study that I conducted in my Grade 9 class a few years ago, I found that the girls achieved better results in all nine learning areas. Adding to this, in last year’s (2013) Annual National Assessments (ANA), it was noted that Grade 3, Grade 6 and Grade 9 girls outperformed the boys in all nine provinces, in mathematics, home language and first additional language.

Possible reasons for this change could largely be attributed to the feminist movement, which has fought to ensure that girls receive fair and equal treatment and representation in all spheres.

Another likely reason that may be responsible for the poor performance of boys could have to do with language. Language is the medium through which all learning areas are taught as there is a close correlation between pupils’ reading proficiency and academic performance, writing for different purposes and the ability to speak coherently and confidently are required in most learning areas, and traditionally, languages are viewed as a feminine subject.

Furthermore, research has shown that there is a significant gap that favours girls in terms of language learning, internationally and in South Africa.

This could be because of girls’ increased maturity, their ability to work collaboratively, talk about and share their feelings, possible gender bias in textbooks, and boys’ use of slang and other issues of masculinity.

A few examples that illustrate the trend of sinking boys in South Africa include the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (2011), where girls obtained 434 points, while the boys scored 408 points.

Adding to this, in the home language ANA, in 2012, the Grade 6 girls in KwaZulu-Natal obtained an average of 44,2%, as opposed to the boys’ average of 37,6%. This trend continued in 2013, with the girls in that same grade achieving an average of 61,4%, while the boys achieved 53,3%.

A large body of research suggests that if girls are performing better in language than boys, then they will probably achieve better results in other learning areas as well.

The time has come to lift the mist. Teachers must be made aware that many boys are in serious trouble academically in South Africa.

They are not waving but drowning, and their plight can no longer be ignored, leaving them simply battling to swim upstream.

As such, teachers need to consider and implement strategies to bring boys back on board.

While some academics argue that single-sex schools or classrooms are the solution, this might not be immediately possible.

For now, perhaps some of the following strategies might help in keeping boys afloat, and they may benefit the girls as well.

Firstly, teachers could try using single-sex groupings or seating arrangements within the classroom.

Secondly, a positive, structured, demanding environment and no-nonsense approach should be adopted.

Third, boys and girls have different interests, so options should be provided from which they could choose, especially in the language classroom when they have to read or write different types of texts.

Moreover, when selecting texts, be aware of gender bias and include works by male authors and poets. Fourthly, allow for activities that promote competition and planned movement to keep boys energised and attentive.

Additionally, make activities meaningful by connecting them to real life and include the drawing of pictures or diagrams.

Lastly, seek out older male role models such as older, respected male pupils or respected men in the community, to visit the class and speak about their academic successes.

It is commitment, determination and trial and error that will enable teachers to build the most appropriate lifeboat to help bring their boys back on board.

• Nazarana Mather is an ex-teacher, who is lecturing full-time at a private college in Pietermaritzburg.

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