"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Insights from Gender Differences

If there is one significant conclusion that can be drawn from research on gender differences in education, it is likely the following. The similarities between boys and girls far outweigh the dissimilarities. The main reason behind this is that variance in children really goes far beyond gender. Every child is unique. I have a son who is in third grade and a daughter who is in kindergarten. They do share a lot of things in common. Still, each one is special.

Studies on gender disparities in education also provide plenty of data on how nature and nurture affect learning. At the early ages, there are cognitive and verbal differences between boys and girls. And when boys and girls grow up, there are likewise differences in experiences. Looking at these differences allows us to see the possible variations among children in general, regardless of gender. One simply has to take note that differences are usually found as mere fractions of a standard deviation. This means that there is indeed a great deal of overlap between the two genders. From a different perspective, this implies that variations within a gender are actually larger than the differences between boys and girls.

Examining how various characteristics (cognitive, verbal, values) might explain gender differences in learning likewise provides excellent avenues to understand how each of these factors affect education. Zeroing on the observed disparities between the two genders on performance in math and reading reveals elements worth noting for more effective teaching or learning.

Girls tend to outperform boys on reading. This difference is partly attributed to a difference in verbal and cognitive factors between the two genders. In addition, a lower level of engagement and interest among boys can account for the remaining disparity. On the other hand, there are more males in fields of math, science and engineering, yet boys do not really outperform girls in math especially in the elementary years. Such divergence can be partly attributed to the environment as well as the values formed by a girl as she grows up. These differences do not exist only between girls and boys. These differences exist among boys. These differences exist among girls as well. These differences exist among children.

Therefore, by simply addressing gender differences in education, one likewise addresses the uniqueness in each child. It is impossible to design instruction specific to each child if schooling happens inside a classroom. However, with an awareness of striking and consequential differences, lessons and activities that are responsive to the individual needs and capabilities can still be tailored. Take, for instance, the engagement or interest aspect in learning. Values in learning are often caught, not taught. There is a difference between teaching kids to read and teaching kids to love reading. There is likewise a difference between teaching kids math and teaching kids to love math.

Only through an awareness of this rich diversity, can one truly appreciate the enormous challenge that teachers and parents face. Effective teaching requires a teacher to treat each student as a unique child. This requires a lot from experience. Relying on oneself is probably not a good idea. Parents talk with other parents when it comes to raising a child. Teachers should do as well. And, of course, parents and teachers need to work together.

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