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Do boys trail behind girls in literacy? Mostly yes, they do.

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Most people are aware of gender gaps but there is a ‘reverse gender gap’ that needs addressing. The gap is that boys and men are more often behind girls and women in most educational curriculums.

The United States Department of Education’s Highschool Longitudinal study of 2019 (measuring the GPA) concluded that girls are two thirds more academically advanced than boys. On average, there is a more significant number of girls getting into university, and a greater number completing their degree, compared to boys. This trend is repeated across the Western world (not just in English speaking countries). In Australia, the gap is sixteen percent, and seven percent in the UK. That rate is even higher for reading and spelling skills. In some countries the literacy gap is as large as thirty percent. This has nothing to do with intelligence as there are two main reasons for the discrepancy.


Firstly, it is well known that girls mature earlier than boys, not only physically but also mentally, through which their Prefrontal Cortex is more developed (at puberty) than boys. On average, the maturity level is a year earlier than for boys, but the gap can often be two or three years. Girls, therefore, are more organised and focused than boys. Boys at the same age are still ‘play’ orientated. Therefore, girls get an unassailable head start. This is not because boys’ Prefrontal Cortex does not catch up; it does; it just takes a bit longer. The research shows that it is difficult for boys to catch up as other factors, such as a lack of self-belief and self-esteem, kick in.


Indeed, girls must be encouraged to continue thriving educationally, but the plight of boys must be considered, too. Well-respected scholar of social progress, Richard Reeves, suggests that boys should start school a year later than girls to give them time for that extra development. By doing so, boys will be more likely to fulfil their intellectual abilities.


The second reason why boys lag behind girls academically is well expressed on the website; quoted as, Two-thirds of learning disability diagnoses are for boys. They also lead in brain-related learning disorders, such as ADD/ ADHD with millions already on medication. Ninety percent of discipline referrals are for boys. Males make up 80% of high school dropouts and less than 40% of college students. Why? Research into gender and education suggests a serious misalignment between how boy’s and girl’s brains learn and our current educational system.

According to the Australian Bureau of Standards (2019), In Australia, boys (on average) drop out of school earlier than girls (4%). A recent US report showed one in four boys has a developmental problem. Richard Reeves said again – “These further strains the education system.”


If educationalists abide to the ethos of “education for all”, there is an imperative to acknowledge and accept responsibility for these two impediments to boys’ education. But until they are more widely recognised, what does this mean for educators? Being sensitive to the plight of boys is a starting point. Lessons for boys need to be created to attract their attention – and assisted with remedial catch-up where possible. However, as our Opinion Piece on what Generational Poverty argues, teachers are already over-worked.

For parents, realising that it is not his fault is important. You should have his back. You may need to try and balance the books with your son sensitively – never compare your son with your daughter. He will be fine, but you need to support his self-esteem, while compensating for his literacy development.