Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Are girls smarter than boys?


IS THE education system more suited to the learning style of girls? Is that why boys are lagging behind girls in public examinations and why boys are outnumbered at public universities?

No, says Malaysian Qualifications Agency (MQA) chief executive officer Datuk Dr Syed Ahmad Hussein.

Syed Ahmad says it is not a gender-based problem but rather a sociological one.

"It is a recent phenomenon as it was not a problem 10 years ago. What it is, I'm not sure. It needs to be studied. Maybe Malaysian boys are spoilt and get away with many things, including not studying hard.

"It is possible that girls perform better in an exam-oriented system but that does not mean girls would not perform as well in an alternative system."

He says some people suggest that boys perform better in a hands-on learning environment rather than one which requires a lot of memorisation.

However, says Syed Ahmad: "The results might be the same if the system is changed. I still hold to the position that we should have an education system that prescribes lifelong learning.

"There should be enough channels for people to return to a formal education system whenever they want.

"We should not be obsessed with having an equal number of boys and girls in the top 10. We should be obsessed with every Malaysian having continuous opportunities to continue their education whenever they want."

Malaysian Association of Private Colleges and Universities (Mapcu) president Dr Parmjit Singh says while there was absolutely nothing wrong with girls doing better than boys, it was important to recognise why boys were not doing as well as the girls.

"It is common knowledge among parents of young children that the learning process that the boys are adapted to is quite different from that of girls.

"What is critical and crucial now is to have an education process that lends itself to the way both boys and girls learn and to bring out the best in them. Even in higher education, we see some differences in the way boys and girls learn."

He says if the disparity continued to persist, it would mean the nation would not get the best out of the boys.

"The education system should align itself to suit the learning patterns of both boys and girls."

Parmjit says anyone taking a cursory look at any classroom today would see boys being restless and bored.

"It's the boys' behavioural patterns, make-up and learning patterns. For example, when you buy something new, a boy will not be patient enough to look at the instructions.

"He will fiddle around with it until he finds out how it works. They are more experimental and hands-on.

"Girls have a tendency to not experiment so much. They will look at the instruction booklet or ask their peers.

"These are just the ways people learn. To get them to learn, the learning process has to adapt to the learning needs of both boys and girls."

MQA deputy chief executive officer Prof Zita Mohd Fahmi, however, feels there is nothing wrong with the education system.

"I think girls are very hardworking. When I was the dean of a law school, the female students' scores at the point of entry were already better than the males.

"This is not an issue isolated to Malaysia. I don't think there is anything wrong with the education system. I think in the Asian context, parents are more lenient with boys.

"I have two sons and two daughters and I find the girls' approach to life is different. But maybe the school environment should be more conducive and cater to the needs of both genders."

Academician Professor Emeritus Tan Sri Khoo Kay Kim agrees that the problem is not with the education system.

"If you look at the culture of the people, in particular Malays and Indians, Malay and Indian girls are not allowed that much freedom compared with Chinese girls.

"Due to that, the girls tend to give more attention to their studies while the boys are running wild.

"Chinese boys have that something extra which is helpful to them. They believe that if you succeed in education, you will become a successful person in life, although empirical evidence shows that most of the successful businessmen in Malaysia had very little education."

Khoo says parents and teachers have an integral role to play in this regard.

"We cannot just look at the schools. Parents on the whole are very ignorant. Many have old-fashioned ideas and feel that if their child chooses to do history and geography, they will not be able to get employed.

"But the truth is, most of those who are unemployed are science graduates. One example are IT (information technology) graduates.

"How many successful people were straight A students in the past?

"Teachers must always try to recognise the talent in a particular child. They must recognise what the child is able to do best and then help the child develop his or her talent.

"Now, they treat all the children as one child. This was not the way of teachers in the past."

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