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Boys' gender gap in reading and writing needs action

The gender gap that boys experience in reading and writing is more than twice the size of the gap experienced by girls in mathematics, according to new research from Griffith University.

The findings suggest we need to improve the way schools educate boys and do more to encourage a love of reading, writing and verbal expression in boys, according to the lead researcher.

Boys’ education is a key determinant of men’s health, with research showing that lower levels of education are linked to poorer health in later life.

The new study, which examined the performance of nearly four million American children, found that:

  • Boys were more than 50% more likely to be poor readers
  • Girls were nearly twice as likely to be advanced readers
  • 3 out of 5 girls had average reading ability or higher, compared with 2 out of 5 boys
  • Boys were more than twice as likely to have poor writing skills
  • Girls were more than twice as likely to have advanced writing skills
  • 2 in 3 girls had average reading ability or higher, compared with 1 in 3 boys

According to the study’s authors, their findings show that claims made by some researchers, that gender differences in education are disappearing, are premature.

For those with an interest in gender theories, the research findings pose a challenge to Hyde’s Gender Similarities Hypothesis, which argues that most gender difference are small or trivial.

Gender Theory: Are Differences Significant?

According to the researchers, a limitation of Hyde’s hypothesis is that it focuses exclusively on mean gender differences and effect sizes, while ignoring evidence from the upper and lower tails of the ability distribution.

So, while average gender differences between boys and girls may be small, the gender gaps among high and low performers “at the tails” of the distribution are significant enough to warrant intervention.

According to the researchers, the existence of a gender gap in reading and writing during compulsory schooling is troubling and that the implications are potentially compounded for students considering tertiary education.

Previous research on gender inequalities in education has found that that more women now attend university, achieve higher grades and have a higher rate of completion.

Systemic gender gaps in writing may be leaving male students significantly underprepared for university study, and offer a partial explanation for why female students achieve higher grades and completion rates, say the researchers.

The researchers conclude that a challenge for future research will be to identify the precise nature of gender differences in reading and writing so that educators can design targeted interventions to improve boys’ and girls’ reading and writing skills.

Commenting on the study’s findings, the lead research, PhD candidate David Reilly, said:

“We know though that any skill can be cultivated with practice and instruction, and that one of the best ways to improve writing is to get feedback on it from others. It may be the case that an increased focus on writing practice could greatly reduce this gender gap…. and likely translate to better writing for both boys and girls.

“For educational practice, I believe this study shows the need for a greater focus on writing beginning in primary continuing throughout high school, but in an ever-crowded curriculum that is focusing more on STEM, it highlights the increased need for further work.

“One thing that I would like to stress though is that it doesn’t argue that “males and females have radically different learning styles” or bolster claims for single-sex education.

“This research suggests that we need to better tailor our education to meet the needs of boys, and really encourage in them an early love of not just of reading, but also writing and verbal expression.”











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