Why are boys generally more likely to be left behind than girls in school? It's customary in society to encourage young boys to behave as competitive and strong men. Masculinity is seldom related to academic studies and higher education. Boys who thrive in school are often considered nerds, not good at anything else. "Boys see this and are more likely to withdraw from positive academic behaviors," says Ioakim Boutakidis, a member of the American Psychological Association's National Taskforce on Boys in School and a Cal State Fullerton professor of child and adolescent studies.
For this reason, male students tend to get lower grades and experience higher expulsion rates than their female peers. According to Boutakidis, all kids start school with different levels of "academic readiness" defined by criteria like how well they pay attention, their ability to listen and follow teacher instructions, and how good they are at learning. Moreover, research shows that boys are a bit behind girls developmentally when they enter formal school. The parts of the brain that control executive functioning, self-regulation, and delayed gratification mature later for boys than for girls.
Boutakidis warns that such gender gaps in school performance can have bad consequences when the boys become men. "Barriers in education can lead to higher unemployment and incarceration rates as well as increased risk for mental health struggles," he says. While men of color, especially from Black and Latinx communities, face the greatest educational challenges, male students generally have more difficulty paying attention, sitting still, and staying focused on a task. However, this is not a very surprising consequence in the aftermath of the Covid pandemic, during which many students were reclused online with lots of non-academic distractions.
Thus, there is a strong need to improve boys' learning habits and academic readiness and to promote emotional learning in the classrooms. Boutakidis explains that, starting in elementary education, schools can reduce the gender gap by educating people, revising discipline strategies, and diversifying lesson plans according to students' backgrounds and interests.
Picture: A happy girl sitting next to a struggling boy in a classroom (ChildUp & DALL-E - 2023)