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Too restrictive an explanation academic performance when differences in between boys and girls are discussed

News: Dec 11, 2015

Today’s media and policy debates tend to homogenise gender when attempting to explain differences in academic performance between girls and boys. This is what Elisabeth Öhrn, Professor at the Department of Education and Special Education, argued in a lecture in early December as part of the series One hour at Campus Pedagogen.

Elisabeth Öhrn concluded this autumn’s popular science series
at Campus Pedagogen with the lecture ”Studying and Aptitude
- Some thoughts about gender differences in marks and success
at school”. The statistics speak for themselves where the average
marks for girls in ninth grade are about ten per cent higher
than for boys, and this is true for all social groups.
Elisabeth Öhrn has been conducting research on gender patterns
in education for a long time. Among other things, from
2011 to 2013 she led the research project Achievement and
Gender. On teaching, youth groups and local conditions with
support from the Swedish Research Council.

Social background is more significant

“When the media commotion over the girls’ higher marks as a
group arose in the late 90s, it really wasn’t anything new. This
was the case way back in the 1960s. What is new is that on
average the girls now have higher marks in other subjects, including
engineering, mathematics, and natural science subjects.
It’s only in sports where the boys as a group still have higher
marks.”
At the same time, Elisabeth Öhrn stresses that the difference
in marks between the sexes at the group level is less than
the difference in marks between those who have parents with
a higher education degree compareto those who do not. Social
background and differences between schools are more significant
factors when explaining the grounds for the discrepancies.
But differences in marks between genders are present there as
well, something that research has examined the causes of.
According to Elisabeth Öhrn, there is no evidence in the
literature that girls would have an advantage due to the prevalence
of female teachers or that class lessons might be more in
tune with the interests of girls. However, there is some support
in the research for the position that the differences are due to
the differing requirements imposed on girls and boys in the
schools, and it is harder for boys to manage the individualised
instruction that is taking place in the schools.
Similarly, the research shows that it is more accepted among
girls than boys to be engaged with academic activities and to
be studying, and clear differences between the genders in the
norms and ideals they value can be seen.
“Boys often forgo studying for fear of failure. Some boys are
going so far as to say that studying is like cheating. The ideal
among young people is to be gifted and smart where one can
achieve good results without much effort.”

Unfortunate antagonism

Elisabeth Öhrn believes that the discussion of gender being
antagonistic is unfortunate.
“The metaphor about winners and losers in the school, where
one person’s success appears to be the loss of another, is unfortunate.
That metaphor can be seen in many countries, but research
shows how education can improve things for one group
without impairing the other.”
Elisabeth Öhrn’s explanations for the metaphor’s strong
impact and the public concern about boys’ achievements in
the late 90s are numerous. One explanation is the West’s deindustrialisation where the jobs that do not require advanced
education and/or training have increasingly disappeared, which
means that even male-oriented jobs are now in need of both
higher marks and longer periods of education. Another is precisely
the strengthening of the gender differences where girls
as a group perform better in more subjects, even if the gain is
only moderate from the 80s to today. A third explanation is
the growing concern about unemployment and exclusion, or
the feeling of being left out.
In the above-mentioned research project, nine ninth graders
were observed in schools in various different types of environments
with diverse social structures. A total of 475 class lessons
plus break periods were observed, with a focus on performance,
marks, and gender, in addition to interviews with the
students and school staff.
“It is a lot harder for boys to balance the demands of school
with the demands of their classmates. There is no contradiction
between performing well and having high status among one’s
peer group. The one thing that stands out as being paradoxical
is that it must not be apparent that you’ve studied to achieve
the good results.”

Problematic self-study

There is no support for the position that education should not
be seen as important for boys, while at the same time in certain
groups there is very little hope for future success either in
education or in one’s dreams for a professional career. In the
research project, one could see examples of how schools consciously
worked to blend different student groups together.
“It produced good results, and the students benefited from
each other in mixed groups with different backgrounds. Selfstudy
is particularly problematic for those groups who have no
help or only limited help outside of the school environment.
The school can organise increased access to social networks
and peer support.”

More information: contact Elisabet Öhrn,
elisabet.ohrn@ped.gu.se, tel: + 46 31-786 2412

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Originally published on: uf.gu.se

Page Manager: Lisbeth Dahlén|Last update: 8/29/2014
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Utskriftsdatum: 2017-09-26