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Focusing on Boys

We all remember the boys in school who acted up. Maybe that was not just because of their characters, but because of the system.

By Andrea Booth

Humanitarian worker Nichola Sarvangga Valero, who went to school in both Indonesia and Australia, admits he experienced difficulties studying in his homeland.

“I found it hard to concentrate at school,” the 30-year-old says. “Going through the Indonesian education system was more difficult because it was too centered on books and heavy material, making it hard to focus.

“In addition, the system was very authoritarian, which made it even harder to engage.”

His experience of school in Sydney, Australia, was more positive.

“It was easier to apply myself to the system there, owing partly to the fact that the teachers did not treat you as inferior, and because the learning style was more interactive and colorful.”

According to the US Department of Education, studies show that most of the low marks at school are awarded to boys. Boys constitute 80 percent of all discipline problems, and account for 80 percent of school dropouts. Girls are 18 months ahead of boys in writing and reading skills, and 70 percent of children diagnosed with learning disabilities are male.

Michael Gurian, author of The Minds of Boys and The Purpose of Boys, who has researched, studied and evaluated boys’ biological makeup and learning methods for more than 20 years, believes boys are being educated in a system that does not consider the male learning style.

Gurian analyzed MRI and PET scans of male and female brains to identify biological differences between the sexes. The scans revealed that males rely more on spatial–mechanical stimulation.
Furthermore, boys use less brain activity, operating with 15 percent less blood flow to the brain, than girls do. This means they usually have a harder time staying focused, which can affect productivity in the classroom.

GREY AREA

Behavioral gender studies also shed light on the issue. Gurian found that when infant boys are given dolls to play with, they tend to pull off the heads or throw the dolls in the air, engaging in physical play. He reasoned this is because, as brain scans showed, boys have more blood flow to the cerebellum, the part of the brain that controls physical action.

Girls, by contrast, used words with dolls. This is accounted for by the higher presence of oxytocin (a chemical affecting verbal ability) in their brains, and the stronger development in the Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas in the temporal and frontal lobes (the main language center of the brain).

When boys cannot focus, Gurian found, their amygdala – the aggression center of the brain – is likely to swell. With heightened frustration levels, the stress hormone cortisol overproduces, prompting an increase in adrenaline. These chemical occurrences lead to a lack of attention in the classroom.

“Most of the time, I forgot what I was being taught sooner rather than later,” says university student Ari Ernesto Kierkegaard of his schooling in Indonesia. “Teachers should use more creative means of communication to impart information so that it can be stored in our long-term memory. This is what is lacking in the Indonesian public school system.”

Ari suggests the inclusion of more interactive teamwork activities, supplemented by artistic endeavors to nurture students’ capacity to think for themselves and to stimulate cognitive, emotive and cultural skills.

BOYS AND PURPOSE

Key to getting boys back on track, Gurian asserts in Purpose of Boys, is to ensure they have a purpose.

“Our sons are not only losing a sense of educational purpose in school and college, they are
losing a sense of social purpose,” he writes.

He says that purpose, vital for boys’ success and happiness, is becoming lost as boys struggle through the education system.

“When boys lose interest in education, they become vulnerable to taking drugs or engaging in violence or crime,” says Nur Hasyim, founder of Indonesian male support group New Man. New Man, established by men’s activists in Indonesia, aims to prevent men submitting to destructive behavior.

“These [destructive] trends are linked to the values associated with masculinity – that men should be strong and macho and never fail. Education systems sometimes contribute to preserving the values of this masculine perception. However, men cannot always meet this idealized image of manhood and so there is no room for a man to be himself.”

MADE FOR HIM

Gurian believes the solution lies in restructuring the education system. It should implement more single-sex classes, he says. It should change curricula to use more male-friendly learning tools such as visual media including movies and the Internet, and use less verbal instruction.
He adds that parents should help with homework and play a large support role, and teachers should increase interactivity in the classroom, such as holding debates.

Nur Hasyim believes the education system has the potential to help men form a more constructive identity.

“We need to promote the values of a new, more egalitarian community, supporting gender equality and stopping violence against women by forming a new image of men to provide another reference for young boys. The Indonesian education system plays a role in that.”

He points out, however, that the education system should also pay attention to the needs of girls.

“The education system needs to be built better for males and females because both sexes have the same potential,” he says. “Providing girls and boys with a learning method they both enjoy enables everyone to learn not out of routine, but out of interest.”

Source : The Jakarta Post

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