Shanghai tries out all-boys classes as girls leap forward


Teenage boys in a Shanghai school are on the front line of teaching reform after the world’s top-scoring education system introduced male-only classes over worries they are lagging behind girls.

Rows of white-shirted boys are put through their paces as they are called up individually to complete a chemical formula by teacher Shen Huimin, who hopes that a switch to male-only classes will help them overcome their reticence.

“We give boys a chance to change,” she said.

The Shanghai school system topped the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) worldwide assessment tests of 15-year-olds in 2009, the most recent available, ahead of South Korea, Finland, Hong Kong and Singapore.

But even so officials are concerned that some male students may be slower than their female counterparts in development and certain academic areas, such as language, and the shift toward single-sex classes aims to boost boys’ confidence.

A prominent Chinese educator, Sun Yunxiao, found the proportion of boys classed among the top scholars in the country’s “gaokao” university entrance exams plunged from 66.2 percent to 39.7 percent between 1999 and 2008.

Across the developed world, girls do better than boys in secondary school, the OECD’s Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) found in a 2009 report on the educational performances of 15-year-olds.

“There are significant gender differences in educational outcomes,” it said, adding that high school graduation rates across the OECD were 87 percent for girls but only 79 percent for boys.

In response, Shanghai’s elite No. 8 High School is halfway through the initial year of an experiment, putting 60 boys into two classes of their own — a quarter of its first-year students — and teaching them with a special curriculum.

“This is a big breakthrough,” said school principal Lu Qi- sheng. “There’s lots of hope — hope that boys will grow up better.

“Boys when they are young do not spend enough time studying,” he explained. “Boys’ maturity, especially for language and showing self-control, lags behind girls.”

China shut most same-sex schools after the Communist Party came to power in 1949, and the only all-boys junior high schools in the country are privately run.

Shanghai does have an all-girls state-run high school, the former McTyeire School for Girls, which marked its 120th anniversary last year and counts the three Soong sisters — Qing-ling, Ai-ling and Mei-ling — among its former pupils.

Between them they married two leaders and an industrialist. Qing-ling married Sun Yat-sen, the first president of the Republic of China, while Mei-ling wed Chiang Kai-shek, who would also later become president.

Student Li Zhongyang, 15, said he felt less shy about answering questions in his all-boys class, but drew hoots of laughter from his fellows by suggesting an absence of girls let them concentrate more on study.

“We lack confidence,” he said. “The teachers like girls, who answer more questions in class. This program lets us realize we are not worse than girls.”

It is something of a contrast to males’ traditionally dominant roles in Chinese culture, but Lu, the principal, said the program “doesn’t have much relationship to equality in society.”

The scheme was launched after China’s government called for more “diversification” in educational choices within the state system.

A Peking University professor has called for an even bolder reform, suggesting in September that boys should start school one or two years later than girls.

“The Chinese education system needs to improve and allow various education methods,” Wu Bihu said on his microblog.

Now Lu hopes to create China’s first all-boys school one day.

“Ten or 20 years ago, there was no need for an all-boys class — just put everyone together,” he said.

In an increasingly aspirational society, he added, some families saw the new program as having connotations of top overseas private schools, and so promising an advantage in the highly competitive “gaokao.”

“The parents know: England has Eton,” he said.

  • a big problem is boys here in China receive the ‘baobei’ treatment, their butts kissed by 2 parents & 4 grandparents – this produces an unprecedented sense of entitlement which is a great de-motivator to study and/or work hard. of course, when one has the right guanxi, who needs to study hard anyway – your grades can easily be fixed.

  • RP

    This is much about losing face and the shame of failure. These aspects of Japanese (common in Asian) culture is quite baked in. Losing face or shame is worst than death in some cases.

    What is truly sad, this is a very similar mentality to what Emperor Hirohito did to cause extreme suffering in Japanese citizens and the nation of Japan. Emperor Hirohito knew the war was lost and not winnable, yet he continued to fight on at extreme cost in Japanese lives and to Japan. It was not until the nuke was dropped on two cities that finally forced Emperor Hirohito to concede defeat. But, one should never forget the human and other cost to Japan and the rest of planet earth.

    This cultural mind set is still very much a part of Japanese culture. It is not about truth, honesty or logic, it is about their pride and not allowing anyone telling them what they can or cannot do.

    These are the same reasons why the Japanese economy is stuck in neutral after their banking and real estate bust. The loss of face and shame due to the actions of a few cannot be revealed or properly addressed which is why their economic problems persist to this day.

    If Japan as a nation is grow up, mature to become a more civilized member of the human family and respect planet earth and all it’s other creatures, they would stop their barbaric practices and relegate them into their history books. This is the real challenge for the nation of Japan and their members of government.