Sunday, October 22, 2006

Girls vs Boys

There is another report out showing that in spite of various measures being taken boys still lag behind girls in terms of GCSE results. And of course the government is "deeply frustrated". What I want to know is why all these over-achieving girls are still on the receiving end of a massive pay gap and hold virtually none of the top jobs in this country (see dozens of other Cru-blog articles for details). When girls are behind boys in some measure the reaction is "Ah, exactly, that's why women should be barred from the top jobs, see?" in the reverse case scenario it's "We are failing our men and improvements must be made".

The truth is (if you ask me) that girls are better at following instructions and getting on with working hard on things even when those things are easy, boring and repetitive. And that is probably mainly a nurture thing - being told to sit still, be quiet, smile and not make a fuss. It could have some genetic basis too - women often have better endurance than men and men often have better burst strength than women - and that might apply to mental work too. School is boring. Parents don't teach kids stuff at home like they used to and schools and curriculum designers are so paranoid about getting (a) everything covered in case they've missed something and (b) the best results possible, so that schools who shop around for easy exams will choose them that school is not challenging for a majority of kids. Now there are two reactions to that - buckle down and get on with it, do the 47-page project on how-to-light-a-bunsen-burner (I genuinely was marked on this when I did GCSE combined sciences many years ago), or refuse, get bored, muck about, etc. And coursework is always about who did the most work rather than who got to the right answer quickest, which rewards those used to doing as they're told. I had a teacher at school who used to weigh coursework projects on a set of scales and predict the grades they would get - he was never wrong! That structure favours hard-working girls. It just does, and perhaps to some extent rightly so since in most workplaces those are the skills that are of greatest importance.

Girls should be commended on having done so well in GCSEs and having worked so hard. All children should be given the option if taking extension work. I'd like to see all educational areas offering ealry GCSEs in a small number of subjects for those who wish to take them - studying at a government-sponsored after-school or weekend club and then being allowed to sit out the corresponding lessons in school in the library or other quiet room.

8 comments:

Sarah Louise Parry said...

Yup, that glass ceiling is still there, so why are these girls with calculators-for-brains still practically banned from boardroom environments and still getting a bum-deal?

Braganza said...

Because you don't get to the boardroom clutching a GCSE in Combined Science - you get there with a top degree, MBA or Doctorate.

The statistics tell a different story when you look at those qualifications.

Persistent overrepresentation of males achieving highest and lowest degree levels

Subject of Degree and the Gender Wage Differential - Evidence from the UK and Germany

Top 50 Blacks in Corporate America

lost clown said...

Apparently here the answer is to use comic books and not those 'girlish' books schools are currently using. (girlish=books with words)

That or let the boys run around and poke each otehr with sticks.

Cruella said...

Braganza - EXACTLY!! none of those articles you refer to have engendered a government policy response to help push women into achieving more. So why should we make such a fuss about a few boys who aren't much cop at GCSE? Lets use policy to address REAL issues!

Braganza said...

OK - thinking aloud here. Should it be the Government's job to push women into achieving more? Or should the Government just make sure there is a level playing field by legislating against decrimination on illegal grounds? I don't mean to pedantically pick at your words but your choice of phrase triggered a thought in me. My opinion is that Government should empower but not push. If a particular career path is 90% male, government should ensure that there are no obstacles to promotion and success for the 10% of women who choose it. Is that a different policy to offering fast-tracking, or golden hellos, or positive discrimination in an attempt to redress the gender balance? Maybe it's a lousy career choice and women don't choose it for a good reason? Just thinking aloud, you understand.


And why should we make such a fuss about a few boys who aren't much cop at GCSE? Because they're our children.

Cruella said...

So when it's girls/women who are behind we should just make sure it's a fair system, when it's boys/men we should offer them extra classes and support.

I am not a purist on the subject, I don't think we should stick to only one option to address inequality. There are some areas where legislating for a level playing field has been going on for years and it clearly isn't working, in other areas offering support to women might cause more tension and division than it serves to overcome.

I am in favour of offering some help where we can and in other areas just making sure it's a really level playing field.

Practically there are some areas where the differential between men and women is hard to judge against where it "should" be. Heavy lifting job for instance, we have to accept that these will be dominated by men but make sure women who wish to participate and who are able to are encouraged. On the other hand there are jobs such as the city where we know at entry level there are plenty of women and yet basically none are making it through to board level. On top of this we see case after case of sex discrimination charges in the area going through the courts. Help is needed in these areas to prevent blatant discrimination from persisting.

So why are boys behind on GCSEs? Is it because there is blatant discrimination? Do female teachers refuse extra help to male students or mark them down? No, that's not the case, so we should accept that the differential is down to natural aptitude and simply make sure that those boys and girls who do work hard are given adequate support.

Jax said...

I'd really rather see a child centred education system that doesn't expect girls to learn like boys or boys to learn like girls. (And yes, I know that some girls will learn and prefer more traditionally male subjects and vice versa, what I'm railling against is a mass produced educational system that can do nothing for individuals within it).

Cruella said...

I agree that schools should be better funded and have greater opportunity to respond to individual pupils. I think however it is a mistake (a) to go in with the attitude that boys and girls learn differently or should be taught differently. Pupils should be divided into groups based on needs not abilities. And (b) to go in with the objective of improving boys scores. That inevitably prejudices teachers against helping girls to do even better.