Reasons for the Academic Underachievement of Boys

It is no secret anymore that boys and girls learn differently. New positron emission tomography (PET) and MRI technologies have enabled us to literally peer into the brains of boys and girls and see their structural and functional differences. There are also emotional and developmental problems that plague children in gender-specific ways. It is therefore surprising that teachers, who are considered the foremost experts on learning, should continue teaching boys and girls in the same way and then demonstrate genuine concern when boys underperform.

One of the main reasons boys do not enjoy lessons is because it is often not presented interestingly. Boys prefer and enjoy lessons when real-life situations are employed and when they are actively involved in their own learning. When boys are taught in ways stimulating to them, their learning machinery kicks in and their brains are engaged constructively. The use of technology, spatial exercises and manipulative mechanics are critical in the instruction of boys. Boys are active creators of their own learning and cannot respond well to situations where their learning styles are not catered to.

Boys, too, are more realistic and practical. While girls would prefer to read and to bask in the splendour of imaginary castles, boys ache for the feel of a hammer and the taste of salty sweat. The castle boys dream about might only be beautiful in their own eyes, but the thrill of creation teaches them lessons girls will never learn. That is why boys do so well in the technical-vocational area, Mathematics and the Sciences.

Parental influence has a lot to do with the performance of boys in school, as they need understanding and supportive parents to guide them toward their goals and to provide them with incentives for performance. Without this sort of environment, the academic performance of boys is usually negatively affected. The presence of a strong positive male influence at home and school can enhance their awareness of their ability to do well academically. They see male teachers and parents as role models that they want to emulate. The role of men in our education system lies beyond just their academic impact. Their role as examples and role models of manhood and masculinity is also critical, particularly for boys.

Proactive teachers should take the position that the experiences of learning should be used as an assessment of teachers. Teachers affect the lives of students in a more significant way than even some parents. Werner (1992) is of the view that some students will learn just because the lives and teaching of dedicated and loving teachers touched them in a positive way. Teachers should cultivate the ability to look beyond the rebellious behaviour of boys and their oftentimes unkempt appearance, and bring their hidden potential to light.  

Boys and girls both learn differently. Teachers who try to make learning fun and interesting by incorporating activities based on meaningful experiences are needed in the classroom. Our boys will be the leaders of the future, and our future will be bleak unless their learning faculties are engaged. Teachers with vision will not enslave themselves to imperfect curricular requirements, but will teach to impact life. This is the only way to ensure that boys are empowered to share with girls, on a more equitable playing field, the promises of a bright future.