Boys left trailing behind girls

3rd March 2000 at 00:00
CANADA: Gender gap raises doubts about child-centred learning, Nathan Greenfield reports

A YAWNING gap between girls' and boys' achievement, with 11 per cent fewer boys than girls graduating from high school, has been revealed. In 1991, the gender gap was just 3.5 per cent.

Educationists are blaming the failure of boys on child-centred collaborative learning methods which have been used in Canada's high schools since the late 1980s.

Among the G7 countries - the seven leading economic powers - the gender gap is worst in Canada. According to the 1999 report of the Pan-Canadian Education Indicators Program, the percentage ratio of Canada's girls to boys graduating from high school is 81:70; compared with 86:86 in Germany, 86:85 in France and 100:96 in Japan. However, the United States also has a substantial gender gap (76:69). There were no figures for Britain, although parallel concerns exist about the gender gap in performance at GCSE.

John Bachman of the Organisation for Quality Education said: "The low rates of graduation for boys (and even for girls) show that despite Canada's spending at the second-highest rate in the G7, our experiment with progressive education - which stresses keeping kids in school raher than what they are learning - has failed."

In some areas of Canada, the gender gap is even higher. In Newfoundland, for instance, 67 per cent of boys graduate compared with 93 per cent of girls. This is thought to be due to the persistence of traditional work patterns. "Boys are often lured out of school by traditional opportunities in fish plants and logging," said a ministry of education spokesperson.

Explanations for the national gender gap vary widely. Some note that a large percentage of the boys who do not graduate have behavioural problems and leave school at 16.

But a consensus has begun to emerge that child-centred learning techniques are alienating boys, especially in high school.

Mark Holmes, emeritus professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, said: "Boys like to have a direct task and be responsible for it and to know when it is finished.

"Girls tend to be more likely to be friendly and happy to talk to others in the group and not be particularly worried about being given a group mark."

The only province that plans to close the gender gap is Ontario.

Girls also fare better at degree level, with 100,763 graduating in 1997, compared with 73,078 boys.

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