Professor James ChapmanFeminisation of education a problem for boys and girls

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College of Education Pro Vice-Chancellor Professor James Chapman is calling for urgent research into why men are not entering the teaching profession and the gap between male and female educational achievement in this country is now one of the world’s largest.

After a College of Education graduation ceremony in Palmerston North last week at which just 15 of the 158 graduates were men, Professor Chapman says the feminisation of education in New Zealand is likely to be a factor in deterring men from entering teaching, particularly early childhood and primary teaching.

In a presentation to the University Council this month, he said it was a significant challenge for the University – “a real problem, which will have a major impact on education downstream. It’s a significant challenge for society, and one that must be met.”

High-profile cases of male teachers and childcare workers being accused – sometimes wrongly – of child abuse, may also be a deterrent, he says. Whether that is so and what to do about it are also subjects in need of urgent research.

“It would be very disappointing to find that this is the case,” he says. “It’s crucial for children especially to have strong role models of both genders at school – particularly for those who may not have both at home.

“Strong role models for both genders are important in terms of balance: Seeing strong male and female role models help to develop healthy notions of femininity and masculinity.

“Boys and girls will relate differently to male and female role models. Both are important. If children come from homes in which there is an absence of a strong positive male – as many do – and if these same children are in schools where there are few males, it is difficult for children to develop a healthy sense of how males and females together collaborate in contributing to society.

“While many high quality graduates are women, in both education and other fields, it’s important that we retain a balance.”

Professor Chapman says that speculation as to why the gap is so large, and how fast it continues to grow, demonstrates the need for action.

Women colleagues had told him the curriculum may have become so feminised that men no longer feel comfortable with it.

“It is an area where for too long, men have been allowed to fall behind. Education policies and teacher gender must be addressed to help close the gap between male and female educational achievements. This is crucial to creating long-term benefits for both boys and girls.”

International surveys of literacy and numeracy indicate that boys are performing less well than girls, Professor Chapman says. “In the 2000 and 2003 international survey of literacy achievement for 15-year-olds, girls recorded a significantly higher average performance in reading in most countries in both studies. In New Zealand girls scored significantly higher than boys, on average, in both 2000 and 2003, with differences of 46 and 28 points respectively.

“For year-five primary school children, girls scored 27 points higher, on average, than boys, and the difference for New Zealand was the fourth largest to be observed across the 35 participating countries.”

National surveys in New Zealand show that, on average, girls achieve at higher levels in reading than boys during primary schooling. There are mixed results for secondary levels. One study suggests the gap is closing; another shows it widening.

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