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Changing course with the gender issue

China has initiated ‘boys only’ classes to address the learning outcomes of its male students.

TEENAGE boys in a Shanghai school in China, are in the frontline of teaching reform after its education system introduced male-only classes after mounting concerns that they were lagging behind the girls.

Rows of boys in white shirts are put through their paces as they are called up individually to complete a chemical formula by teacher Shen Huimin, who hopes that a switch to male-only classes will help them overcome their reticence.

“We give boys a chance to change,” she said.

The Shanghai school system came out tops in the the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development’s (OECD) worldwide assessment tests of 15-year-olds ahead of other nations like Singapore, Japan and Hong Kong in the region.

But even with the shift towards single sex classes which aims to boost boys’ confidence, officials are concerned that some male students in an all-boys’ school may be slower than their female counterparts in development and certain academic areas, such as language.


Focus on figures: A Mathematics class in session in an all-boys class. – AFP


Learning fun: Students react as they listen to their teacher during a lesson in
an all-boys school in Shanghai which has also produced some global top scorers. – AFP


A prominent Chinese educator, Sun Yunxiao, found that the proportion of boys who were among the top scholars in the country’s gaokaouniversity entrance exams, plunged from 66.2% to 39.7% between 1999 and 2008.

Across the developed world, girls do better than boys in secondary school, the OECD’s Programme for Inter-national Student Assessment (PISA) found in a 2009 report on the educational performances of 15-year-olds.

“There are significant gender differences in educational outcomes,” it said, adding that high school graduation rates across the OECD were 87% for girls but only 79% for boys.


In response, Shanghai’s elite Number Eight High School is halfway through the initial year of an experiment, putting 60 boys into two classes of their own — a quarter of its first-year students — and teaching them with a special curriculum.

There are graphics to show how Shanghai girls obtained the highest marks in a 2009 OECD assessment of schools worldwide. Across the developed world, girls do better than boys in secondary school, the OECD’s programme found.

“This is a big breakthrough,” said school principal Lu Qisheng. “There is a lot of hope — hope that boys will grow up better.

“Boys when they are young do not spend enough time studying,” he explained.

“Their level of maturity when it comes to showing self control and their proficiency in languages, may not be high or as significant as that of the girls within the same age group.

China shut most single-sex schools after the Communist Party came to power in 1949.

The country has a few all-boys junior high schools in the country, but they are all privately run.

Shanghai does have an all-girls state-run high school. Formerly called the McTyeire School for Girls, it marked its 120th anniversary last year and counts the three Soong sisters — Qing-ling, Ai-ling and Mei- ling — among its former pupils. They all married prominent men.

Qing-ling married Sun Yat-sen, the first President of the Republic of China, while Mei-ling wed Chiang Kai-shek, who would also later become president while Ai-ling, was married to industrialist K’ung Hsiang-hsi.


China has initiated ‘boys only’ classes to address the learning outcomes of its male students.
Teenage boys in a Shanghai school in China, are in the frontline of teaching reform after its
education system introduced male-only classes after mounting concerns that they were lagging behind the girls

Student Li Zhongyang, 15, said he felt less shy about answering questions in his all-boys class, but drew hoots of laughter from his classmates after commenting that the absence of girls in his class, allowed him to concentrate on lessons.

“We sometimes seem to lack confidence especially in their presence,” he said. “The teachers too seem to prefer the girls to the boys as they are usually more alert and seem more eager to answer questions in class... in a way this (all-boys) programme lets us realise we are not worse than the girls.”

It is quite a contrast to the traditionally dominant roles that males play in Chinese culture, but Lu said the programme “doesn’t have much relationship to equality in society”.

The scheme was launched after China’s government called for more “diversification” in educational choices within the state system.

A Peking University professor called for an even bolder reform, suggesting that boys should start school one or two years later than girls.

“The Chinese education system needs to improve and allow various education methods,” Wu Bihu said on his microblog.

Now Lu hopes to run an all-boys’ school one day.

“About 10 or even 20 years ago, there was no need for an all-boys class — we placed everyone together,” he said.

In an increasingly aspirational society, he added, some families saw the new programme as having connotations of top overseas private schools and so promising an advantage in the highly competitive gaokao.

“The parents know: England has Eton!” he said. — AFP


BILL SAVADOVE The STAR Online Education Opinion Sunday 14 Apr 2013

Tags: gender, ranking
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