Boys education strategy stalls

As reported in Certified Male, Winter 1995, New South Wales is poised to introduce a comprehensive Boys' Education Strategy. However since the recent change of State government, progress has been slow. There is concern from some quarters that the issue has become a political football.

According to a report by the NSW Board of Studies, very few boys are achieving academic success; most are doing significantly worse than girls. In 1991 girls led by 4.4 marks, and by last year the gap had widened to 17.6 marks.

Dr Peter West, a senior lecturer in education at University of Western Sydney, predicts that the gap between girls' and boys' results in the Higher School Certificate exams this year will be the biggest on record.

Peter West says the Boy's Education Strategy, written by former Education Minister Stephen O'Doherty, correctly identified the need to turn around the pevailing attitude of boys that academic success is not "cool". More energetic, younger male role models in schools would be a good start. "The O'Doherty report got it right. It's time the NSW Government found the courage to implement that well-though out and well-balanced report".

At the annual Federation of Parents and Citizens conference, president Ros Brennan warned that the "vital issues of boys' education and gender equity strategies" in schools ran the risk of being "submerged by a partisan political approach by the Government". Mr O'Doherty said that the government was dragging its heels because it doesn't want to endorse a policy written by someone who is now opposition education spokesman. "I have promised the Government bipartisan support to implement this strategy, but the minister has taken the department's plans and hidden them in his bottom drawer."

Division in the party

Education Minister John Aquilina reassured the P&C that the issue of boys' education was being positively addressed by the department, as part of its overall policy on equity, but detailed planning was needed before implementation could begin.

Meanwhile, other Labor politicians have made it clear that there is considerable division in the Labour party over the issue.

Left-wing Labor MLC Meredith Bergman, appearing on SBS television's Insight said "why do you have to worry about boys' literacy when they're going to go into the workforce and have a female secretary to type their letter for them." She said that now we are putting too much emphasis on boys lagging behind, and we should be considering instead about women "still earning 35% less than men".

"As the mother of a small boy" she said, " I think that the reason that little boys are not getting the education they should get is because they're all behaving so badly. The little girls are sitting up the back writing away".

Peter West says that an unsympathetic attitude towards boys undermines their self-esteem and reinforces their belief that they have to be tough to survive. "When I look at the textbooks my university students read, I see a lot of very hostile messages about boys. Boys are violent, nasty, grubby, sex-mad little beggars who stop girls from learning, according to these books. We are telling teachers to listen to girls in a dozen different ways, but we are telling teachers NOT to listen to boys."

Stephen O'Doherty also believes that boys need encouragement, not condemnation. "Boys don't want to excel, and are suffering a chronic lack of self-esteem. This is an educational and social picture that demands attention. If we don't act quickly we are in danger of losing a generation of boys."

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