Boys and Girls as Different Learners


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Rana Rais Khan

Owner and editor-in-chief at Hiba Magazine

Latest posts by Rana Rais Khan (see all)

Vol 2 -Issue 3  Boys & Girls as different learners

A common myth that lingers is that boys are better equipped for scientific genius than girls. And brain-imaging technology has proven that the brains of men and women are certainly different. Even Sandra Witelson, a neuroscientist famous for her study of Albert Einstein’s brain, explained that besides the brain, men and women have dramatic differences in their eyes, noses, and ears that feed information to their brains. Yu Xie, a sociology professor at the University of Michigan, rationed that social conditions, which come into play with biological factors, enhance these differences. All in all, copious theories state the gender disparity.

However, the latest research upends the concept of male superiority in science skills. This is good news for parents, who want their daughters to become top-tier tenured science professors, researchers, engineers, etc. As parents, we need to understand and appreciate the disparity in the anatomy of the brains of our sons and daughters. This will assist us in knowing, what fundamental steps need to be taken to enhance our child’s inclination towards a particular subject be it our son or daughter. Both can be achievers, provided parents understand their gender uniqueness and especially cater to their rudimentary learning needs.

  • Amanda Ripley in her impressive article published in March, 2005, issue of “Time” explained that men’s brains are about 10% bigger than women’s brains. This difference in size is merely the same as the fact that men are approximately 8% taller than women. Size difference does not predict intellectual performance, as was once thought. Boys and girls have repeatedly performed equally well on IQ tests.
  • Men do their thinking in more focused regions of the brain, whether solving a math problem, reading a book or feeling angry or sad. Women appear to have more connections between the two brain hemispheres, so they use more parts of their brain to accomplish certain tasks. This might explain, why they tend to recover better from a stroke, since the healthy parts of their mind compensate for the injured regions.
  • Women have stronger connections between the amygdala (a deeply located part of the brain) and regions that process language and other functions. This may explain, why women can openly express their emotions, while men compartmentalize their worries and carry on. Even as toddlers, most of the little girls begin to chatter quite early and effortlessly, as compared to boys.
  • According to psychiatrist Jay Giedd who has been compiling one of the world’s largest libraries of brain growth, a girl’s brain size peaks around age 11 1/2. For the boys, the peak comes at age 14 1/2.
  • Specifically some of the brain regions involved in mechanical reasoning, visual targeting, and spatial reasoning appear to mature four to eight years earlier in boys. The parts that handle verbal fluency, handwriting, and recognizing familiar faces mature several years earlier in girls.
  • The most surprising differences lie outside the brain. “If you have a man and woman looking at the same landscape, they see totally different things,” states Leonard Sax, a physician, psychologist, and author of “Why Gender Matters”. Women can see colours and textures men cannot see, hear things men cannot hear, and smell things men cannot smell.
  • Male retina of the eye is likely to consist of more cells designed to detect motion, while female retina has more cells built to gather information on colour and texture. Now, we understand, why our little boys are fond of moving toys, such as trucks, etc. and our girls favour richly textured dolls and other colourful stuff.
  • Likewise, women’s ears are more sensitive to some noises. Baby girls hear certain ranges of sound better. And the divergence gets even bigger in adults.
  • A study published in the journal “Nature Neuroscience” in 2002 revealed that women of childbearing age were many times more sensitive to several smells upon repeated exposure than men.

Humble solutions by experts:

After thorough study, Leonard Sax of Maryland is convinced that boys and girls are innately different, and that their environment must be changed so that the differences do not become limitations. Sometimes, solutions are simple. In co-ed schools, boys, who do not hear as good as girls, do lag behind in academic performance. To solve the problem, they can simply be moved into the front row of the classroom. However, often solutions to other problems are more complex, especially, in cases involving attention-deficit / hyperactivity disorder, etc.

According to the National Centre for Education Statistics, until the fourth grade in the US, boys and girls hardly show any significant differences on their math tests. Moving into their adolescence, girls score about 7% lower on the math section of SAT. For this reason, Sax offers segregated classrooms for our early and adolescent learners. According to his theory, co-ed has caused more harm than benefit. Teachers handle boys and girls in a similar manner, not understanding that their brains are maturing at different speeds. This poses two critical hurdles in the way of smooth academic progress: a) failure and  b) aversion to a particular subject (languages, social science, etc., in the case of boys, and math and analytical subjects in the case of girls).

This research aids us as parents to respect the diversity of our children. It also reminds us, how uniquely Allah (swt) has created males and females. They are not in competition but play complimentary roles to make one winning team. Allah (swt) states: “Verily, We have created man in the best stature.” (At-Tin 95:4) Although different in many ways, our boys and girls are special, and, as a principle, must never be compared with one another.

Allah (swt) also states: “… He creates what He wills. He bestows female (offspring) upon whom He wills, and bestows male (offspring) upon whom He wills.” (As-Shura 42:49) Casting aspersions, such as, “Why can’t you be more like your sister?” or “Why can’t you be smart like your brother?” only counts for hiding our own parental inefficiencies and disrespects the individuality of our children.

If consistent instruction is imparted in line with the genders’ own pace of mental development, may be we will some day have a female version of Einstien and a male version of the Bronte sisters.

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