Monday, March 29, 2004


Excerpts from an article by Dale Spender

School is one of the few places where boys don't do well. They don't do well at reading and writing; they don't stay on at school in the same numbers as girls - and they make up only about 43 per cent of university students.....

Which makes the question we should be asking not what is wrong with the boys, but what is wrong with the school?

Most of the people in the workforce are now being called upon to manage vast amounts of information. And it's not the old print form; it's digital. It's all about computers. And this is where the boys come into their own. Boys today are members of the Net generation. They have grown up wired, and whenever they can get their hands on the equipment, most of them excel at anything to do with computers. They can handle massive amounts of information and massage complex systems as they download files, swap music and hack and chat their way through the day. They are immensely digitally literate. They can deconstruct images almost instantly; they can read screens. What's more, these are the very skills they will need for future employment. Their digital literacy is very different from the print literacy of earlier generations - and different from the print literacy on which most of them are still being tested in school.

The Net kids don't sit still, they aren't quiet, and they aren't ordered and disciplined. Their computer behaviour is seen by many teachers as a discipline problem, and their noise and activity as a lack of concentration. For these young people are not only "taking in" information, they are constantly sending it out. The key difference between print and digital is that the computer is interactive. The Net generation has not been taught these skills by parents or teachers. They are the hands-on generation. They have worked it out for themselves. They arrive at the school door with a range of sophisticated computer skills, and there are plenty of teachers of five-year-olds who readily acknowledge that the kids know much more about computers than they do.

But what does the Net generation think of the culture of the school? The answer is generally "not much". It's because most classrooms are not well equipped. For the first time in history, the chances are that the home is better resourced than the school. But this isn't the only limitation the wired kids confront; it's the fact that the school often doesn't value their digital literacy.

Adolescent boys who are recognised as whizzes by IT experts are almost never given credit for their advanced performance. Instead, teachers who are familiar with books, but for whom computers remain something of a mystery, are more likely to regard the speed, dexterity and flashing eye movements of the boys as the product of too many video games - and as something to be kept out of the classroom. Here you have the real problem: The boys have not fallen behind; rather they are ahead of the school.

But can they use their sophisticated information management and knowledge-making skills that the school has not taught them? Rarely. The reality of the classroom is a mob of boys who can hardly wait to get away from the place so they can get back to the real thing - doing the digital. Boys are not underperforming; it's the school. The minute the boys (and some girls) leave the classroom behind, and can be boisterous and adventurous in their use of the digital - and not get into trouble for it - they will be the winners once more.

The minute they can get credit for what they do so well, rather than being penalised for not being able to do what their teachers were taught in another age, boys probably will be ahead of the girls - even in the classroom.

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