Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Women Teachers = Dropout Male Students?

I love American Football. There I’ve said it. And one of my favourite columnists covering the game is Gregg Easterbrook, who’s main identity is as a serious journalist and political commentator. During the season though, he covers the NFL in a highly unusual style, mixing football commentary with mostly tongue-in-cheek observations on politics, economics, arts and sciences.

The reason I’m bringing this up is last week’s “digression” involved a familiar issue to Malaysians – the gender imbalance in tertiary universities. Gregg’s half-serious suggestion was that the increasing popularity of football in the United States was increasing long term brain damage among young males. The emailed replies to that suggestion are worth repeating here (excerpt; emphasis added):

Last week I supposed that ever-more boys spending ever-more time on football may be one (of many) reasons women are doing so much better in college than men. Sean McIntire of Los Angeles writes, "Your argument regarding football holding back males from the grades necessary for college admission is correct, but it's not tackle football, the problem lies with too much Madden football. I'm a high school teacher, I see the disparity between the achievement of male and female students. I believe boys spend too much time playing "Madden" and many other video games. This is what is causing them to not achieve in high school."

Anders Vorum of Randers, Denmark, writes, "I teach in the Danish public school system, and we see the same development here, though we have almost no American-style football. The general education level of girls is increasing much more than that of the boys. Our kids play a lot of soccer and handball, where concussions are a lot less common than in gridiron football, so neurological damage isn't likely a factor in the Danish trend to girls doing better in school than boys.

"What I think is a larger contributor is change in the structure of the public school system. The position of teaching has transformed from a highly respected, well-paid job to a reasonably paid but highly criticized one. This caused men to begin leaving the school-teaching profession; women, then leaving the home for the workplace, found teaching a desirable occupation. Today 70 or 80 percent of teachers in Danish public schools are women, and the fraction may be similar in the United States. One of the effects is a school system that caters to girls but views boys as problematic. As a result, many of our boys don't feel like they fit in and a fair few begin to 'bail out' when they hit the teenage years. A higher percentage of girls end up going on to our universities."

Is that a factor here in Malaysia? It does seem like there are more female teachers than male but I don’t trust my impressions unless its backed up with data. And what mechanism is really at play here, even if it was true? A lack of role models? Not enough empathy from teachers? I haven’t a clue, but this is worth researching.


  1. I thought it's common knowledge the root cause of gender disparity is that, man think with his small head whilst woman, rightly, use her brain..:-)

  2. Each time I look at my kids, I keep thinking "Tom Brady was selected with pick #199, anything is possible."

  3. I blogged on this issue but it is so "lonely to voice out" - anyway just watch the documentary "Waiting for Superman", will give all the answers to your ??????
    (PS: get a copy and see the full documentary).

    At least in US there are many Superman who took pains to truly research and come up some solutions!



  4. Alberto,

    LOL, yes that's one of the best. Quite a few top players went undrafted, like Wes Welker. And then there's this guy playing for the Cowboys who won a roster spot through a reality TV show. I just wished he hadn't scored against the 49ers (die-hard Frisco fan here).

    And who can forget Kurt Warner...stock boy to Super Bowl winning quarterback in one season.

    Yes, anything's possible!

  5. Katrina,

    Thanks for sharing that story. Shows that there's always hope when the will is there. I know one young man I worked with who came from a similar background (Felda settler's son) - he's now a qualified CFA and a senior manager with a big listed company, even though he's not yet 30.

    There's also another issue:

    I suspect many kids have learning disabilities (especially boys with ADHD for instance), and suffer from not getting the right treatment. My daughter's borderline dyslexic, and it was a real struggle (almost exactly like the story in the article - she was memorising rather than reading). Luckily we found the right help, and she's doing ok in school now.