Sunday, February 05, 2006

Educational equality

There's been a bit of a storm recently about how boys are falling behind at school. So, being the mathematical type, I went on a search for some statistics about how girls are doing at maths these days. After all, if boys are falling behind, girls must be doing better at everything right?

I had a look at the NSW records for who was doing 4 unit (the highest level) maths these days. In 2004, it was 60% boys, and 40% girls. In 1991 (the earliest I could find statistics) it was 65% boys, 35% girls.

For the highest level of english, in 2004 it was 66% girls, 34% boys. In 1991 it was 73% girls, 27% boys.

So for both english and maths, the proportion of each gender at the highest level has become more even (albeit not far enough, in my view). Actually, I was quite astounded by the maths proportions, as I'm sure it was a lot less even in my day (mid 80s).

What I have read about this so far (and I'm interested now, so I'll come back to it) suggests that broadly what has happened in NSW is that high socio-economic girls have started to reach equality with the equivalent boys, because the education for the high achievers has got better at understanding the individual. And you can see that in the statistics above (not that high achievement always corresponds with high socio-economic, but there is a correlation). And low socio-economic boys have slipped behind. So if there is a problem, it tends to be at the bottom end, with those who have low socio-economic status to start with.

Which tends to mean that all those hand-wringing commentators are worrying about the wrong issue. The boys whose educational impoverishment they are bewailing are at the high socio-economic end of the spectrum, most of the time.

I don't have a conclusion yet, but I'm sure I will be paying a lot more attention to it, as the mother of two boys.


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