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One of the most common themes I have encountered over my years in education is that of empowering teenagers to become more independent. In the case of teenage boys, it can be more clearly stated as empowering boys to become independent while still making sensible decisions. Countless parents have sat in my office concerned about the “attitude” that their adolescent sons are presenting.
New friends, new teachers, new subjects, a completely new environment; the transition from one school to another can be tricky for boys to negotiate. And while the step up from pre-school to primary classes can be daunting, the shift into senior high school can be more intimidating, particularly given the added social pressures that are imposed upon young men.
The concept behind the International Baccalaureate dates back to 1948 and the foundation that is behind the program was set up in the Swiss city of Geneva in 1968. Just ten years later, St. Mary’s International School became one of the first to adopt the IB in Japan. The school was certainly very progressive to adopt such an international approach to curriculum development.
If men are from Mars and women are from Venus, then it follows that boys and girls are from similarly divergent parts of our universe. And research suggests they need different tactics when it comes to getting the most from them during their formative years.
For both boys and girls, there is a strong case for being educated in a single-sex environment — but it is arguably more important for boys.
The average teenage boy is almost certain to be more excited about the idea of late-night television, computer games into the small hours or clandestine exchanges with his pals on the mobile phone than getting his head down for a good night’s sleep.
He would be wrong — and scientists have proved it.
A 2010 study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that as many as two-thirds of high school students in the US are getting less than seven hours of sleep a night.
A study carried out in the UK in 1997 suggested that the average girl entering high school at 13 or 14 had a concentration span of 13 minutes. For a boy of the same age, that plummeted to just four minutes. If those figures were not worrying enough, subsequent studies have indicated that concentration spans continue to contract.
Whether we blame it on the fast-as-a-click gratification of the Internet or the broader pace of modern-day living, shrinking concentration spans pose a serious challenge to teachers looking to achieve their classroom aims.
It was Saint Augustine who wrote, “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page,” underlining what for many people are the two most wonderful experiences that a person can enjoy: education and journeying to new destinations.
And the young man who has the opportunity to learn in a place that is not his home, some would say, is very fortunate indeed.
They may dream of being professional sportsmen or stars of the music scene, but only a fraction of boys will see that ambition come true. There is, however, no harm in boys aiming to be the next One Direction front man or Lionel Messi.
In fact, evidence suggests that boys who do participate in music activities or join a sports team do better in the more traditional academic areas as well.
As any teacher emerging from a classroom can confirm, a group of boys can be noisy, rowdy and difficult to manage.
They can be disorganised, easily distracted and waiting for the bell to signal the end of the lesson. And studies suggest that because girls tend to be more focused and better behaved, teachers can sometimes under-estimate their male charges’ intellectual and academic abilities.
But the raw materials are not far beneath the surface, education experts point out. They just need to be teased out into the daylight.
Much has been made of the better grades that girls achieve in many areas of school curriculums and the reasons for the “lead” they have taken over boys in the classroom, but The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development has recently carried out some interesting research into the impact of applying varying learning styles.