Girls are doing better than boys at school – Is this a problem of nature or nurture?

A couple of weeks ago, as I flicked through one of my newspapers, the Fermanagh Herald, I came across the photos of students who had been very successful in their “A” Levels.  One of those pictures, in particular, caught my eye.  It was a picture of nine successful girls from St. Comhghall’s College, Lisnaskea.

The striking thing about the picture was that St. Comhghall’s College is a co-ed school and there were no boys in it.  Now perhaps there were a couple of successful boys who were not available for the picture.  Whichever way you look at it though, the photograph epitomises a growing gender gap in academic achievement.  This phenomenon is neither peculiar to Northern Ireland nor the rest of the United Kingdom.  Similar patterns are emerging all over the World. 

Having scoured websites in other parts of the world that discuss this problem, the following patterns seem to emerge.

(1)       Boys do better in Mathematics and Sciences than they do in Languages.  In England and Wales, for example, Boys and Girls are much nearer to parity in Maths and Sciences.  In language learning, the Girls considerably outperform the boys. 

(2)       The gap in gender academic achievement seems be wider at the lower end of the social scale

I do not profess to know all of the causes of this imbalance.  There is plenty of attention and discussion about it from the teaching profession and Government Educational departments.  However, there seems to be very little commonality of opinion over the causes of the problem.

There is no doubt that the problem is connected with culture and environment.  For some reason, boys and men tend to be less conscientious of the sexes but do we have to blame that problem entirely on parenting and social imprinting? 

Parenting and teaching might be a lot better if there was more understanding of the natural differences between the brain wiring of human males and females.  I don’t profess to be an authority on this subject but I have read books written by two very well-known psychologists – Allan and Barbara Pease.  The first book I read from these authors was “Why men don’t listen and why women can’t read maps.”  I found the book highly amusing but it had a serious side to it.  It was geared towards helping people to become more tolerant of the behavioural differences of their opposite sex.

It is suggested in that book that the female human brain has a much better facility for communication.  What the human male brain lacks in communication ability is compensated by the fact that human males have better spatial vision than human females.  That may explain why males tend to have a greater facility for reading maps than women or parking a car parallel to the line in a car park with diagonally arranged parking spaces.  It may explain why more men are interested in sport than women.  However, this apparent advantage does not seem to compensate for the greater communication facility of the female human brain.  Spatial vision would have been much more important when our ancestors were hunting animals for food.  In an era where education is becoming increasingly important for humans, it is more advantageous to have a brain which has a greater communication facility. 

One feature of a human female’s superior communication facility is the ability to multi-task.  In terms of brain functioning, this means that generally, a woman is likely to be better able than a man, to focus and think about more than one thing at the same time. 

It is easy to imagine how this disadvantage can be translated into educational achievement.  If a boy is distracted in a classroom, his attention is likely to be turned completely towards that distraction and he will find it difficult to follow what the teacher is trying to teach.  On the other hand, a girl who is distracted in the classroom is more likely to be able to follow the teacher despite being diverted.

Whichever way one looks at this problem, the end results are that a boy is less likely to achieve academic educational potential than a girl. 

Clearly there needs to be some initiative by the Government which would help to guide parents and teachers.

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