Our Education is failing young men and boys. It's time we fix it.
Updated: Mar 16
Young men and boys are falling behind in education. It has been common knowledge for quite some time now that there is a gender imbalance in various aspects of education, but in order to be able to analyse this issue further, one must have a look at the specific and relevant data, realize why it might be a problem, and find a suitable solution if possible.
The Higher Education Student Statistics of 2017/2018, released in January 2019, would be a good place to start. According to this report, the student population in higher education (in general) is 57% female, with the most recent batch of undergraduates being 63% female, noting a steady rise of the number of women in higher education, also backed up by the percentual rise of the gender gap in higher education, which this study has calculated to stand at around a 4% increase since 2012, confirming the general trend that the increase in female undergraduates seems to be perpetuating.
Quite obviously, it seems that young women and girls seem to be adapting and thriving under this model of education. This is clear not just from the aspect of higher education, but all areas. As previously mentioned, in terms of University, 57 per cent of women went to university last year compared to 43 per cent of men according to the already mentioned study, but there further discrepancies also when it comes to A-levels and GCSEs. According to the Joint Council for Qualifications in 2018, in terms of A-levels, 79 per cent of girls received A*-C grades compared to 75 per cent of boys and 71 per cent of girls received A*-C grades compared to 62 per cent of boys when it came to the GCSE’s. And just to set the tone, another study carried out by the Department of Education in 2018 shows 68 per cent of girls reached the expected standard in the Three R's, compared to 60 per cent of boys in Key Stage 2. Boys are falling behind way at a very early stage, something that can help explain the steady rise of the gender gap in higher education.
This is also not a recent problem. While it is key to take into consideration recent data, if one is to look at, for example, high school dropouts (now using the United States National Centre for Education Statistics as an example) over a long period of time, say since the 60’s, it is easy to observe a steady decline of all dropouts in high school. But on the other hand, the majority of dropouts, for the last reported 30 years (1980-2010), were always men.
All of these studies and countless others also regarding OECD countries show a clear pattern: the gender gap is increasing in all levels of education: from grading to aspiring to go to university, to presence in universities, and general lack in interest in education are all problems that affect a male majority. And since this trend is easily traceable to over a few decades ago, it is easy to assume that this problem has not been detected by those responsible with dealing with the education system, or, in an even worse scenario, has been actively ignored. However, there are some aspects that might add credibility to the argument that the way the education system is set up might instantly put boys at a disadvantage.
In what seems to be a mild digression, 1 in 7 young men (from ages 4 to 17) will be diagnosed with ADHD. The way this is treated is, usually, with stimulants; Ritalin or Adderall, for example. Children with ADHD have various problems in dealing with a classroom environment, due to the inability to sit still in a chair for long, the need to initiate constant conversations and keep moving, difficulty to pay attention for long periods of time, etc. All of these, disregarding the illness itself, are behaviours that are traditionally associated with young boys, which means that even if they are not diagnosed with ADHD, some still get medicated in order to adapt easier to the classroom. There have already been reported cases of young children being medicated by their teachers with these stimulants, which are considered Schedule II drugs by the Drug Enforcement Administration that could have side effects ranging from “high potential for abuse” all the way to “with use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence”. In some of the most extreme cases, psychotic or manic symptoms are also referenced in terms of possible consequences of abusing these drugs.
Regardless of the need to medicate these children in order to treat their conditions, it is highly irresponsible to medicate them in a way which will possibly be creating various health problems down the line – and only doing it so they can fit into a classroom environment makes it exponentially worse . Furthermore, the picture becomes even grimmer when said classroom environment is (at least arguably) not serving them in their quest to achieve their maximum abilities.
There are many questions to be asked about this problem and various other existing studies to analyse and take different conclusions from. It is, however, clear that if not all, at least some boys are at a clear disadvantage in the education system, be it because of the way it is structured or the way it fails to address problems that are inherently more associated with typical male behaviour. It would, however, be possible to deal with this issue if further studies were conducted in order to understand how education can be improved for boys and young men.
It is good news that young women and girls are thriving, but that cannot be an excuse to justify leaving behind a generation of men with huge potential, for their own benefit and society at large. The solution might come with creating more single gender schools, where methods of teaching differ and keep a similar education system that we have now based of lectures for girls, but more active and personalized for boys. Even if such is not possible, a review on the grading that affects both boys and girls, especially at a young age, should be reviewed in order to make sure boys can achieve the grades they deserve in a system which is fair to their particularities and not tailored for what are traditionally female characteristics.
Finally, a few last relevant aspects to point out is that while all of this has been going on, we have witnessed an exponential increase in the number of young men living with their parents, young men committing suicide, young men abstaining from relationships and a drop of income, not to mention the plethora of issues regarding mental health and drug abuse. Obviously, all of these issues have their own variants, but to disregard education, especially with all that’s been discussed so far, as at least one of the factors, would be highly irresponsible.
Whatever the solution may be, the problem remains the same and is getting worse at a very alarming rate. Our education, one of the things we cherish the most in civilized societies, is disenfranchising young men and making them check out of society. If this is something we cannot fix, we do not deserve to have a society at all.