TEACHING BOYS Educators use technology to bridge the gender divide

Global examination statistics reflect measurable differences between the academic achievements of boys and girls, and boys are lagging. By using electronic tables and interactive games in the classroom, however, educators have new tools to help boys reach their full academic potential.

The evidence is everywhere: Traditional schools are failing to educate boys as effectively as girls. Just consider: 

-   A 2010 report issued by the Center on Education Policy, an independent US research organization, confirmed that boys have fallen behind in reading in every single US state. It found that in elementary schools, about 79% of girls could read at a level deemed “proficient,” compared to just 72% of boys. Similar gaps were found in middle school and high school.

-   Statistics from a Jamaican Ministry of Education report show that at Grade 4, 81% of girls mastered tests in literacy, compared to 59% of boys. Meanwhile, 55% of girls excelled on mathematical tests compared to just 36% of boys.

-   In 2012, the Joint Council of Qualifications in the UK stated that 73.3% of girls achieved passing grades in their secondary school exams. The proportion of boys achieving the same was just 65.4%.

-   In France, there has been a steady gap of between 4 and 5 percentage points in results between girls and boys in the French diploma of secondary education and vocational training. In fact, according to the French Government’s Ministry of Education, males have consistently lagged in this examination for the past 20 years.


Michael Gurian’s groundbreaking book Boys and Girls Learn Differently! suggests that “two areas of greater functioning in the female are memory and sensory intake. Comparable greater functioning in the male is in spatial tasks and abstract reasoning.” In short, Gurian implies that boys and girls could benefit from being educated in different ways that support their natural ways of receiving and interpreting information.

But this isn’t how most students are taught. “Education has been the same for the past 100 years or so,” said Dr. Alison Carr-Chellman, professor of Education at Pennsylvania State College of Education. “This sees a teacher stand in front of a group of children and deliver information or experiences, and then that child is moved on to the next class. This is not a productive or good way of schooling, particularly in the information age.”



The problem is widely recognized. Increasingly, technology is seen as a means to improve engagement with boys. In line with Gurian’s findings, technology solutions offer significant advantages in visual and spatial learning, increasing the opportunities to better engage boys in the classroom.


Visual technology solutions such as interactive whiteboards, which incorporate video, sound, photography and live Web activity, address boys’ preferences for visual learning. Tablets and touchscreens, too, are gaining traction in the classroom, with several schools already reporting good success.

“There is simply something about the ability to manipulate images and text on a screen and create unique responses to assignments that boys latch onto in a way that staring at a blank piece of paper can never hope to match,” said Betsy Weigle, an elementary school teacher in Spokane, Washington, USA.

Weigle, who runs, a website devoted to supporting teachers and providing interesting and useful content for those in the profession, is using Apple iPads and smart-screen technology with her students. “A problem boys have is that they struggle to sit still for long periods of time, and a visual solution like the iPad can help with this,” Weigle said. “Any time a teacher can do more than simply talk at their children, especially boys, they will find that they retain information much better.”

Cedars School of Excellence in Greenock, Scotland, was one of the first in the world to deploy electronic tablets to every pupil. Since the tablets were introduced, teachers have observed a marked improvement in the concentration and attainment of boys. Teachers also have highlighted the ease with which students can conduct research and develop their digital literacy skills, providing an equal playing field for both genders and allowing males to benefit from their strong visual learning capabilities.

In another example, Coedcae School in Llanelli, Wales, has purchased two iPads for the school library. The school is using the devices primarily as electronic books to encourage boys to read more.


Educational games play a major part in the interactive learning solution field. For example, Nimero, a Bulgarian educational software company, creates games that combine visual and spatial learning with literacy and puzzle solving – tapping into boys’ more inherent learning processes. Nimero’s primary-level mathematics game Jumpido, for example, uses whole- body interaction in a series of exercises and games, providing a kinesthetic and competitive element that is particularly suited to engaging boys in learning.

“Jumpido better engages boys in the classroom, both mentally and physically,” said Kiril Rusev, CEO of Nimero. “The kinesthetic and spatial elements of Jumpido naturally align with the brain processes of boys, and allow for an interactive element that traditional teaching methods don’t offer to the same degree.”


A 2010 report found that in elementary schools, about 79% of girls could read at a level deemed “proficient,” compared to just 72% of boys.


In Manhattan, New York (USA), Quest to Learn is a school with a unique view on incorporating technology in the classroom. The school promotes a vibrant learning community that uses the underlying design principles of games to create highly immersive, game-like learning experiences. The project was the brainchild of digital games designer Katie Salen. The school’s dogmatic approach to gaming as a form of education sees technology present in an array of forms with multiple purposes. With technology and gaming so central to this method of education, boys have an opportunity to use their natural brain functions and gain pleasure and enjoyment from education.


With an increasing range of interactive and innovative education tools available on the market, teachers now have a better chance of tapping into the natural learning instincts of boys more successfully.

“Gender-based learning has become an accepted reality, and has had profound implications on how classrooms are designed, built and used – from kindergarten to college,” Gurian said. “A powerful nexus of social change has been building, one in which girls’ and boys’ issues can be dealt with concurrently.”

by Sean Dudley Back to top