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COMMITTEES: Education and Training Committee: Report

Mr CADMAN (Mitchell) (10.51 a.m.) —It was a pleasure to be involved in the report of the inquiry of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Education and Training into the education of boys, Boys: getting it right.

I want to thank my colleagues, many of whom are here today, for the opportunity to join them after the parliament reconvened last year and to continue as a member of the committee. As a father of three boys, it was an invaluable experience and one on an issue that has concerned me for some time. Indeed, I have seen my wife crying at times because she felt that our sons were being disadvantaged by a system which she, as a teacher, did not understand. As a highly qualified individual in the education area, she was unable to identify the factors that she felt were disadvantaging our sons as compared with females. She did not feel resentful towards the education of females; she just felt that there was an unfairness in the system for our sons. I think the committee identified with its first recommendation the real reasons why the establishment—the institution of education—has appeared to have got it wrong. The committee's first recommendation is that:

... the Minister for Education, Science and Training act to have MCEETYA revise and recast Gender Equity: A Framework for Australian Schools into a new policy framework which is consistent with The Adelaide Declaration on the National Goals for Schooling in the Twenty-First Century and reflects the positive values expressed in that document:

I think this is the crux of what we came to, because it is fair and it is positive. Recommendation 1 continued:

Ěthe framework should provide an overarching policy structure for joint and distinctive boys' and girls' education strategies which—

address boys' and girls' social and educational needs in positive terms;

allow for school and community input to address local circumstances; [start page 9184]

Ěthe achievement of the goals and values expressed in the framework and the boys' and girls' education strategies should be evaluated against a range of social, employment and educational indicators; and

Ěthese indicators should be used by MCEETYA to inform changes in policy and practice to ensure the social and educational needs of boys and girls are being met.

It is not just about young people or students generally but boys and girls being considered as individuals. I think that the more we can individualise and meet the needs of a person being educated, the more we are likely to achieve. The more an individual's deficiencies and abilities are understood, the better equipped the teacher will be to present a relevant and worthwhile teaching program to properly meet that person's needs and maximise their potential. I quote from the report again:

Gender Equity: A Framework for Australian Schools was formulated to account for these concerns and the document states clearly “that boys have needs that are not being met effectively by schools.” However, Gender Equity: A Framework for Australian Schools is not a fundamental re-examination of the gender equity strategy intended to tackle boys' education issues from the ground up as happened for girls. In fact, a footnote to the introduction exhorts people to read the National Action Plan for the Education of Girls 1993-1997 as a companion document.

Therefore, right at the very base of this process we have an unwillingness to look at the educational needs of boys as being something that is distinctive and, in fact, just lumps both genders together as if they were identical. They may be equal, but they are not identical.

During the hearings it was surprising that, when asked, witnesses could not provide evidence or quantitative research to support the introduction of the 1997 gender equity framework. One of the flaws in education that I feel most strongly about is changes being implemented and not evaluated or monitored so that we can find out where we have come from and where we are heading. We seem, in many instances, to come up with an emotional response to what is perceived to be a problem, write a program for that, make a statement, change the system but not then evaluate the process. In every other walk of life we tend to do that, but in education generally we do not and that is a shortcoming that I would like to see changed in education in Australia.

The factual circumstances identified in this report make it a serious national problem which we must do something about. Let us look at the achievement of boys and girls in terms of the raw data and the key indicators: in measures of early literacy, 3.4 per cent fewer year 3 boys and 4.4 per cent fewer year 5 boys in 2000 achieved the national benchmark than girls; the retention rate for year 12 boys was 11 points lower than the retention rate for girls in 2001; and girls were achieving higher average marks in the majority of subjects at year 12 and the gap between girls' and boys' total marks had widened markedly. For example, in New South Wales in 2001, the average tertiary entrance score for girls was 19 percentage points higher than it was for boys—and you can track it over a period going back to about 1987, when you can see the difference starting. In admissions to higher education, 56 per cent of university commencements are female. And there are other indicators—suspensions, expulsions, truancy, even juvenile delinquency—you can run through which indicate that boys are not achieving as well as girls.

I would like to draw the committee's attention to a quote from Dr Kenneth Rowe, principal research fellow of ACER, regarding literacy, where he says:

As for specialist maths or four unit mathematics at year 12, a /files/includes/content.css analysis has demonstrated that on average the level of the nomenclature and the sophisticated verbal reasoning skills that are required for us to even understand what the problem is is on average four times greater than that required in Australian history and English literature. So not only does the student have to understand what is being asked, they must translate it then into a mathematical logarithm and justify or explicate the solution. [start page 9185]

That is an anti-male process because, as the committee identified, the level of boys' language skills is not generally as high as it is with girls. Therefore, an additional penalty has even been built into subjects such as science and mathematics.

I trust that governments, state and federal, will look carefully at the recommendations the committee has brought forward. Not only is the policy basis identified as being off track and wrongly oriented; it is also not fair to all children in the education system. The national economic potential is being demeaned and lessened because we are not taking advantage of the potential of all of our citizens and all of our young people. We are creating measurable social problems such as truancy, juvenile crime and delinquency. The recommendations for literacy and numeracy, which are foundational and most important, run through the connection between schools, teachers and male role models in the teaching system. The report comes forward with a controversial but sound proposal on HECS programs for equal numbers of male and female teachers. That is a recovery type requirement. It would not normally be seen as radical, except that the number of males within the teaching service has declined so much. The report recommends that the Commonwealth work in conjunction with the states and territories to provide the changes that are needed.

The recommendations bear some analysis and cannot be read separately from the report. The report, I think, is a very good report. I would like to pay tribute to the chairman, Kerry Bartlett, for the skills that he brought to the process, and also to the deputy chairman, Mr Sawford, for his cooperation, knowledge and experience in this area, both as a teacher and as a member of this committee. Your contribution was very valuable, Rod. The committee was a parliamentary committee in the best sense of the term. The report was struggled over. I think that is a good thing, because a report where you struggle over the wording and struggle to get the concepts right and clearly expressed is often the best report. It forces you to go right to the substance of the evidence that is taken, analyse it carefully and present it by way of the parliament, saying to the citizens of Australia, `This we believe. This is our considered opinion after having gathered every bit of evidence we could.'

This was not a prejudiced or biased process. We had a couple of wonderfully gifted female members of parliament help us, so it was not a gender favoured process. The recommendations were our sincere conclusions as a parliamentary committee. The staff were wonderful. The opportunity of comparing the Australian system with the New Zealand system was a bonus. We found that in New Zealand and internationally they have identified the same problems that we have identified in Australia, and they are struggling with remedies as well.

The committee was willing to go right to the core of the thing and look at the gender equity problem and the way it is being expressed. We do not wish to offend women. We maintain that women have been disadvantaged. We want to make sure that they are not disadvantaged again. The committee believes we should continue to make sure that girls are not disadvantaged, but that we should not neglect boys in the process. This is not a process which says, `It has been the girls' time and now it is the boys' time.' It says, `The girls have reached a level of achievement which is wonderful to see. It is wonderful to see young women achieving what they are achieving, but not to see boys fail.' We could be accused of neglecting boys' interests if we continue with the populist or politically correct line of saying that the gender equity process we have established should not be challenged or changed. We need to do that. We need to go to the root of the problem, change the curricula, the processes and the teacher education program and make sure that male and female teachers understand the different cognitive processes of boys and girls. Boys and girls learn in different ways, and teachers need to be aware of that. It is not something that depends on more male teachers; it depends on people understanding. [start page 9186]

I conclude with the anecdote that we had in Queensland from a male teacher who took the adventurous step in his school of splitting the sexes for one year. He taught the boys. He said that it was the greatest challenge he ever had because their attention span was so short, their activity levels were so high and the range of topics that they wanted to examine made it extremely demanding for him. When I questioned him about whether he wanted to continue it for another year, he said, `No, I'd rather have a mixed class next year because the pressure levels to retain that high level of teacher input will drop with the girls coming in, as they are more word focused and will be able to take the concepts that I offer the class much more easily than the boys.' I thank the secretariat and my colleagues for a very valuable exercise.

Author: Alan Cadman MP
Source: House Hansard - 14th November 2002
Release Date: 9 Dec 2002


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