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For the last few decades in Canada, as in most western countries, statistics have piled up suggesting that boys are falling behind girls in most measures of academic achievement.

Dr. Paul Cappon, president and CEO of the Canadian Council on Learning, is among those experts passionate about the need to recognize that boys and young men are struggling. He will take your questions about the evidence of this trend, what impacts it could have and why we, as a society should care and do something about it. Dr. Cappon will be joined by Globe reporter Carolyn Abraham, lead journalist on the week-long series Failing Boys. (Read their bios below)

Brodie Fenlon/The Globe and Mail: Some readers suggest the concern about failing boys is overstated. While they acknowledge that an academic achievement gap exists between boys and girls, they're quick to note that more boys than ever are graduating from high school and attending university. How do you respond?

Paul Cappon: While it is true that more males are graduating than before, it is also true that the gap between males and females is widening. In Canada today, only 38 per cent of graduating university students are men.

Carolyn Abraham: The gap seems to beg the question as to why boys, and young men are not keeping pace with the interest girls and women have in higher education. This may not have been a matter of great concern in decades past, but when the modern economy demands a higher education as a ticket to the best and highest paying jobs, it's worth investigating.

Concerned Parent: I have a young son in Grade 2 who often has a hard time keeping up with the same level of education as those in his class. He has already repeated Grade 1 but continues to fall behind the rest. He does have a mild version of ADHD but I do not believe this is the major factor to his learning. He has been assessed and it was determined he should not receive medication - only as a last resort. I believe the problem often is the style in which he is educated. If he can not grasp what is being taught then he has to catch up on his own since there is no time/assistance allocated for students that fall behind.

Paul Cappon: Patience with younger boys is needed. they are far more likely than girls to have a learning disability or ADHD. Students should be able to work at their own pace. Study should be individualized and personalized as much as possible. Your working closely with teachers will be important.

Carolyn Abraham: I have heard from several parents about the full-time job it can become to advocate for special education services in public schools. Many observers criticize the fact that schools are built around the one-size-for-all model and lament that only those who can afford it can access the best available help, not just for boys, who tend to suffer learning disorders more than girls, but for all children.

Interested in the topic: How do you suggest the education system should motivate boys? Is private school a good option?

Paul Cappon: From the standardized testing results we have seen, the advantage of private schools seems to lie more in the families who can send their children there, and not because teaching is better per se.

Carolyn Abraham: It might be worth starting in teachers colleges, and introduce research on gender differences and learning styles, keeping in mind that these are generalizations and that there can be more variation between any two boys than between boys and girls. But certainly the science suggests that we are perhaps foisting boys into a learning environment too early that focuses on sitting still and verbal and written communication. At the early years, boys tend to thrive especially well with competition, over cooperation, active learning - spelling bees, drills etc - where jumping up to share the answer comes with immediate rewards.

Paul Cappon: To Carolyn's comment I want to add that parents from all walks of life can help enormously by reading to young children daily before they start school. That is something tangible we all can do.

Amanda_Parsons: As a former Special Education Teacher, I agree with Paul that parents and teachers need to work together to find the best learning and teaching style for students. U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, believes the lack of minority male teachers has a huge impact on boys. Do you think there is a correlation? Why do you think only 38% of graduating university students in Canada are men?

Paul Cappon: It is difficult for boys with so few role models, especially in elementary school, where lifelong reading habits can begin. Also, if almost all teachers are women, they will naturally select reading that appeals to them, but not necessarily to boys. We must find ways to make teaching, especially in primary school, more attractive to men. On the second question from Amanda: women enter university in larger proportions because they have better grades, because they have better reading and writing skills and work habits. Even when males enter, for some of these same reasons, they are less likely to graduate than women.

Carolyn Abraham: I'd like to respond to Amanda's comment about the correlation between minority male teachers and boys. I could only find one study that suggested a year with a male English teacher made a significant improvement to the performance of boys taking English. Most research suggests that there is no impact on academic performance. But Mike Parr from Nipissing notes in today's story, that having women role models for girls has presumably made the world of difference, and calls continue to have more women in engineering for similar reasons - to inspire younger generations. I can only think that it always helps to see someone like yourself achieving, since the message can only be that achievement for you too - is possible.

To read more, replay the conversation in the box below. Smartphone users can view a mobile-friendly version of the live chat here.


Dr. Paul Cappon was named president and chief executive officer of the Canadian Council on Learning in 2004. A prominent educator, doctor and administrator, Dr. Cappon has been a lifelong education advocate, community supporter and author of numerous publications on learning and community medicine. He has earned degrees in several fields, including a PhD in sociology from the Université de Paris, a medical degree (MD) from McMaster and a family medicine specialization from Dalhousie. He has served as a faculty member at several Canadian universities including Laurentian, McGill, Saint Mary's and UBC, teaching both sociology and medicine. Most recently, he served as the Director General of the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada.

Carolyn Abraham has been the medical reporter for The Globe and Mail since 1998. She has covered a wide range of research areas, from the science and ethics of advances in genetics, to stem cells and the outbreak of SARS. She has also written on issues related to depression, amnesia and other studies of the mind and brain. Some of this led to her book in 2001, Possessing Genius: The Bizarre Odyssey of Einstein's Brain. Before joining The Globe, she worked for Southam News and The Ottawa Citizen, where she worked the police beat and wrote features before moving to Toronto in 1996 to cover Ontario politics at Queen's Park. She graduated from Carleton University's journalism school in 1991.