Lighthouses to guide boys to success

13th December 2002 at 00:00

The Australian government has given $4 million (pound;1.4m) to 30 "lighthouse" schools in an attempt to improve boys' education.

Federal education minister Brendan Nelson said the schools would act as champions and demonstrators to disseminate "best practice boys' education" to schools around them. Each primary and secondary school will receive up to $60,000 (pound;21,000) to document its activities and demonstrate how it achieves the best for its male pupils.

A further $500,000 will be allocated for research in teaching, curriculum, testing and assessment. Dr Nelson said it was important not to undermine the progress made in the education of girls over the past 20 years, but it was unacceptable that 14-year-old boys were now doing worse in literacy tests than they were 25 years ago.

Under the two-stage plan, up to 70 schools will receive $20,000 to document and develop their work with boys. They can spend it on a range of activities including training teachers or hiring academics to assist them.

The lighthouse schools will then be chosen from those identified during this process.

As a guide to the schools, Dr Nelson released two research reports dealing with boys' education. Both outlined ways teachers might improve learning by making classes more active and "hands-on", giving pupils greater autonomy while trying to make them more critical of the popular electronic media and its potentially "misogynistic and hostile" attitudes to girls.

One report, Addressing the educational needs of boys - strategies for teachers, argues that schools should avoid thinking of boys or girls as homogenous groups but as diverse individuals who bring to school different attitudes according to their family backgrounds.

"Good pedagogies work with all students, and teachers' classroom practices are the central variable in achieving good academic and social outcomes," the report said. "Research has clearly demonstrated how the attitudes of some boys as to what constitutes acceptable or 'cool' behaviour often frame their negative attitudes to schooling, academic work and extra-curricular activities."

The second report, Boys, literacy and schooling, recommends that teachers promote an active and "democratic learning environment". It says teachers should create classrooms where pupils are treated with dignity and respect, where their knowledge, opinions and contributions are valued, and where they are encouraged to work collaboratively.

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