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The Globe and Mail

Developmental differences: One of five reasons why boys are failing

Kiyoshi Takahase Segundo/iStockphoto

Why are boys falling behind in school? Kate Hammer takes a look at video games, the education system, the boy code, developmental differences and a lack of role models in search of answers.

In the earliest years of schooling, biology takes sides with the girls. The female brain is smaller, but the prefrontal cortex matures about two years earlier, giving girls the classroom advantage when it comes to self-regulation, behaviour and attention.

Boys have more behavioural problems and learning problems than girls in the early years; they are four times more likely to suffer from autism, three times more likely to suffer learning disabilities such as dyslexia and three times more likely to be diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

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Generally speaking, girls just find it easier than their male classmates to sit still, be quiet and pay attention.

"Many teachers including myself do note that there is this kinesthetic aspect to many of the boys," said Douglas Gosse, an associate professor at Nipissing University's Schulich School of Education. "And I think that sometimes they're punished and expected to be seated quietly and admonished when they're not conforming to some more quiet, passive sort of behaviours."

This is one of the reasons why nine boys are referred to medical clinics for behavioural problems for every girl.

Girls also often have prettier writing and are better at colouring within the lines. A Canadian study of five-year-olds found that girls were better than boys at copying and using symbols. This can disadvantage boys in drawing assignments and in written work, which research suggests is graded more harshly when the penmanship is messy.

With research from Carolyn Abraham, Rick Cash and Celia Donnelly

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About the Author
Education reporter

Kate Hammer started her journalism career in New York, chasing crime and breaking news for The New York Times. She came to the Globe and Mail in 2008 to do much of the same and ended up investigating allegations of animal cruelty and mismanagement at the Toronto Humane Society. More

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