Bars should be lowered for boys in exams, lawmaker says

Updated: 2012-03-09 07:59

By Gao Changxin and Wang Hongyi in Shanghai (China Daily)

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 Bars should be lowered for boys in exams, lawmaker says

Students at a primary school in Jinjiang, Fujian province. Provided to China Daily

A lawmaker's proposal to give male students gender-specific education and easier access to college has sparked controversy.

Wang Ronghua, who is also director of the Shanghai Education Development Foundation, said male students are increasingly under-represented in the country's leading schools and colleges, and are outperformed by female students in college entrance exams.

This under-representation, he claimed, will have a negative impact on the country's science and technology innovation and international competitiveness.

Wang gave a striking set of figures that show a growing learning gap between male and female students.

Male students account for up to 80 percent of the nation's 50 million students who are rated as "poor students", according to Wang.

Last year, male students in Shanghai scored on average 25 points lower than their female classmates in the annual senior high school entrance exam, showing "huge" disadvantages in English and Chinese.

At the moment, the proportion of male students in Shanghai's key senior high schools is more than 10 percentage points lower than that of female students.

Wang singled out the example of Shanghai High School, one of the best senior high schools in Shanghai, where the proportion of male students declined to 35 percent from 65 percent 20 years ago.

"I am afraid it will become a 'female school' in just a few years," Wang said.

The reason for that, Wang said, is that male students mature slower than their female counterparts in self-control and language abilities, which are emphasized in the current entrance exams.

Wang recommends that high school education should be more "differentiated" to give male students opportunities to develop their natural advantages in creative and practical skills.

But before those teaching methods become a reality, he said that the bar should be lowered for male students.

Wang's proposal has some supporters.

"I agree that boys should be given some preference in entrance exams. Girls mature mentally earlier than boys but boys catch up with, and usually outperform girls when they are older," said Liu Lu, the mother of a 2-year-old son in Shanghai.

But Sun Ling, the mother of a 7-year-old daughter, disagreed. "It's our basic national policy that males and females are equal, it's not fair for girls if they get harder exams just because they are good," she said. "Using different standards for boys and girls would be a sort of discrimination."

China is not alone in finding that boys underperform at school.

In the United States, college enrollment rates for women have also increased over the past 20 years. In 2005, 57 percent of the 17.5 million undergraduate students enrolled in college were women, and the National Center for Education Statistics projects that 60 percent of all college students will be female by 2016.

Making admission decisions based on gender in the US is banned at public schools, as well as in private graduate and professional programs. But private liberal arts colleges do have a legal right to consider gender in admissions.

Chinese law bans gender-based admission policies in all schools, though some "special majors" have been given an exception.

Wang Xin, a math teacher at Shanghai Jiaohua High School, said teachers should do more.

"Teachers in co-educational schools should let the boys shoulder some extra responsibilities, like being the class monitor, to help them develop themselves quickly and in an all-round way."

She opposed differentiated admission policies and separate education.

Sun Baohong, a researcher at Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, said boys don't do so well at school because they are generally spoiled by their families, as Chinese society traditionally has a preference for sons.

"Parents should encourage them to take part in all kinds of activities, especially to face up to some adversities," he said.

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(China Daily 03/09/2012 page5)