Boys' education back on track, says UWS academic

Date: 22/10/2002

A University of Western Sydney expert on boys' education has applauded the Federal Government for tackling the problem of boys' underachievement in schools.

Dr Peter West, from the University's Research Group on Men and Families, says the Inquiry into the Education of Boys has listened to the message contained in hundreds of submissions: boys are not getting as much from school as they deserve.

"Our education system plays a vital role in helping shape boys' lives, and we can no longer afford a "one-size fits all" school curriculum," says Dr West.

"Boys are active creatures, and don't react well to being stuck in a classroom all day, listening to teachers talk. They also need positive male role models to shape and guide their development. I welcome the Report's suggestion that we try alternate methods to attract males back into teaching."

The Federal Government Report into Boys' Education, released yesterday, examines the social, cultural and educational factors affecting the education of boys (especially literacy and socialisation skills), and the strategies some schools have used to address the problem.

The Inquiry has made 24 recommendations, including:

* that the current gender equity framework (designed to help girls through the social and economic changes of the last 20 years) be re-worked, to provide distinct education strategies for both boys and girls;

* that trainee teachers study the different learning styles of boys and girls;

* that more teacher training is needed to recognise and counteract literacy and numeracy deficiencies in school children, especially boys;

* that university teacher courses emphasise behavioural management and interpersonal skills to help teachers establish stronger relationships with boys;

* that teachers be educated on the ways in which males and females typically learn, to encourage a more male-positive approach to behaviour and learning;

* and that the Commonwealth Government provides HECS-free scholarships to encourage more men and women into teaching.

Dr West says the Report recognises that past changes in curricula, designed to benefit girls, have effectively left boys behind.

"There has been so much emphasis in the past on fulfilling the educational needs of girls, with good reason, but boys have been virtually ignored," says Dr West.

"Boys now have to cope with a skewed learning system, which is on balance more attractive to girls. We are seeing the results of that through falling literacy, higher school drop-out rates, lower school grades and more suspensions and expulsions."

Dr West says the Report's emphasis on teacher education is also significant.

"Teachers must be taught why boys learn differently than girls, and develop appropriate education strategies to bring boys back into the fold, like activities focused on action and the outdoors," Dr West says.

"Boys' learning styles are more commonly spatial than verbal. Research shows we need to give boys more responsibility and room for their own interests.

"Retaining teachers is also important. They must be given more financial and developmental incentives to remain in the job. Male teachers in particular provide an important positive role model for boys," he says.

Dr West says many of the Report's recommendations reflect points made in his own submission to the Inquiry. These include making boys' underachievement a research priority; educating teachers about boys' needs; developing positive male role models; and developing pilot schemes to encourage more men into teaching.

"The Federal Government's Report is certainly a good starting point. It's now up to the Commonwealth and the States to work together to implement these recommendations, so that our boys get the best possible start in life."

* Dr Peter West is one of Australia's leading commentators on men and boys, and is also internationally recognised in the field. He is the author of a recent report on best practice in boys' education, and his other publications include "What IS the Matter with Boys?" and "Fathers, Sons and Lovers: Men Talk about their Lives from the 1930s to Today".

Media Enquiries:
Angela McIntyre
Senior Media Officer
02-9678 7424
0419 244 595