News Sinead Moriarty

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Sinead Moriarty: Battle of the sexes now starts in classroom and it's boys who are losing

Published 16/11/2013 | 02:00

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By the delicate age of four, girls have started feeling superior to boys in school. And boys, by the age of seven, rate themselves below girls. Four seems a little young to have decided on the superiority of your sex, just as seven is far too early to throw in the towel. But new research shows that this is when the battle of the sexes begins.

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Many column inches have been filled with facts and figures on the increase in girls' prowess in the classroom and their steady march to third-level education. It has been reported that, in mixed schools, boys work harder to keep up with the girls, while girls dumb down to keep on a par with the boys.

Stereotypes have always been dangerous and potentially damaging and this recent survey highlights this. The study of 600 children aged four to 10 was performed by the University of Kent. Findings revealed that boys fall behind girls because they were constantly being told that they were not good enough.

Apparently our young boys don't feel that their parents or teachers expect them to do as well as girls. This has caused the boys to lose confidence and motivation. It seems alarming that at the grand old age of seven, a boy would pack it in and give up trying.

And since when did girls have so much confidence? It's astonishing to think a four-year-old girl would have the chutzpah to think she was a cut above the boy sitting beside her.

Aren't four-year-olds more interested in running around in circles making animal noises than eyeing up the competition for potential university places?

Obviously not, Bonny Hartley, the PhD student who led the study, says. "Our research showed that, from the age of four, girls thought they were better than boys at school, believing they understood their work better, did better, were more motivated and better behaved."

Good to know that we don't have to worry about our daughters having low self-esteem. After four long years of living, they already know their farmyard sounds are in a different league to the boys'.

But while our daughters are prancing about, overflowing with self-belief, what is to be done about our sons? There are several explanations for boys' underachievement. Studies have shown that young boys are less equipped than girls for prolonged, sedentary days sitting at a desk. As anyone with sons will tell you, they can barely sit still for five seconds, never mind five hours.

It's fair to say that girls mature earlier than boys and are therefore more likely to be attentive. Girls will sit still, listen and learn while their male counterparts will fidget, squirm and jiggle about in their seats.

It has often been said that the reason boys are being surpassed by girls is because education has become 'feminised', with the majority of primary school teachers being women. This, it was claimed, gives girls an advantage.

So what do we do? Hartley says that it's very important for parents and teachers to diffuse negative stereotypes. They all need to reassure children that both boys and girls are expected to achieve. "Any practice that diffuses negative academic stereotypes could improve boy performance," she says.

As parents, perhaps we can help our sons in practical ways. Take them to the library and let them take out books that they are interested in, instead of trying to get them to read the 'classics'.

Speaking from experience, 'Captain Underpants' went down a lot better with my sons than 'Alice in Wonderland'.

Parents could also look at incorporating physical activity outside school for boys with a lot of energy.

Every parent wants their child to enjoy school and not to come home feeling inferior to anyone – regardless of gender, class or creed.

All any parent wishes for is that their child gets a good education and does the best they can.

I'm all for women breaking glass ceilings, but four-year-old girls should be having fun with their male classmates, instead of dismissing them as inferior.

Irish Independent

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