Is there a problem?

There is plenty of objective evidence that boys are not doing at all well in school.

Comparisons of Student Achievement

Ontario's Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) is so concerned about the gender gap in literacy that it has issued this statement. Although boys have traditionally been stronger in math and science, girls have now caught up and are starting to pull ahead in these subjects as well – as this Time Magazine article reports.

University Attendance

This Statistics Canada report shows that more and more girls are graduating from university. The chart below lists the percentage of 25- to 29-year-old male Canadians who are university graduates during the period 1971 to 2006..



Percentage of University Grads Who Were Male











As this article explains, girls’ superior performance in school and university is leading to superior performance on the job.


What is causing boys’ problems?

Many causative factors have been suggested for boys’ problems in school, as outlined here. These possible causes include the feminization of school and employment, video games, boys’ active natures, television, lack of male role models, and so forth. However, none of them fully explains the problems - mainly because they mostly precede boys’ downward spiral. In any case, there is not much anyone can do about them, certainly not in the short term.


Are any causes being overlooked?

Many people assume that boys are receiving optimal instruction in school, but this is not necessarily the case. There is, for example, not enough emphasis on non-fiction texts and too much emphasis on personal writing. A more significant factor in boys’ problems, one that is largely overlooked, is modern teaching methods – especially the way children are being taught to read. Boys need old-fashioned phonics more than girls do, as this report from England attests. Selective studies suggest that when boys are taught to read using systematic phonics, they can read as well as or better than girls. Click here to learn more.

Math, too, is being taught via inferior methods and suffers from some erroneous misconceptions on the part of teachers (see this article in “Design Product News”, a trade publication for Canadian design engineers).

Supporting the growing mountain of data pointing to instructional methodology as a major contributor to boys’ poor performance at school is the fact that the tutoring services parents (those who can afford it) hire to help their struggling sons often use direct instruction for reading, writing and mathematics.

Children’s ability to read and do math at the end of grade 1 are powerful predictors of their performance as teenagers and adults. Students who don’t master basic concepts rarely catch up with their more successful peers. Unable to do the work, they become disengaged in school, develop behaviour problems, and eventually drop out of school. Sadly, boys’ reading, writing, and oral language skills lag far behind girls’ throughout their school careers, starting even before grade 1.

Since multiple factors are currently affecting boys’ achievement in a negative way, we should earnestly work to implement instruction that demonstrably affects them in a positive way. Let’s control the variables we can.


What can parents and teachers do?

Since boys learn better when traditional methods, such as direct instruction in systematic phonics and sequential math, are used, parents and teachers should make sure that boys get the kind of teaching they need. A list of suitable teaching resources is available here. Anyone can use these materials – classroom teachers, resource teachers, parents, or private tutors. It doesn’t really matter who does the teaching – as long as it gets done, and the sooner the better!

Boys who are slow out of the gate need intensive support especially at the early stages. Repeating Grade 1 may help some of them, but it is a fact that some boys are not ready to master beginning reading in Grade 1 and need more time and focused intervention on language skills. Although we are talking about boys here, it is important to note that traditional methods work well for girls too.

Additional general information is available here.


This information is brought to you as a public service by the Society for Quality Education.