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Minister of Education and Culture Sanni-Grahn Laasonen. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

In comprehensive school, boys used to slide their backpacks along the long, shiny hallways of the school’s premises. This gesture of boredom became more evident in the afternoons when the postures started slouching and the blood sugar kept sinking to the bottom levels after a heavy lunch of donuts.

In the following mother tongue classes, the boys kept barely awake, and any remaining energy was used to throwing erasers to the girls backs who tried to observe in class.

Still, everyone passed school. The boys’ grades represented the average middle.

Today, I was told by leading researchers in education that the very same problems still exist. Or, actually, boys are doing worse. “We need to figure out, how to sell the benefit of mother tongue classes to boys,” said Sirkku Kupiainen, one of the researchers in a study ordered by the government, which aims to tackle boys’ declining success in school.

International surveys, such as PISA (15-year-olds) and TIMMS (fourth graders), are showing that boys have been performing poorer in school in the past few years. According to the PISA survey, “nowhere was the gap in performance between the genders as wide as in Finland.” While boys did well in math, they sucked in literacy.

“Signals regarding literacy and people’s willingness to read are showing polarizing tendencies, and this is a worrying development,” said Sanni Grahn-Laasonen, the minister of education and culture, earlier. “What is especially worrying are boys and children coming from an unprivileged background. We have to ensure that all children, irrespective of their background, receive literacy that makes them able to cope with life.”

Today, Sanni Grahn-Laasonen presented four ways of solving the poor performance of boys, based on the aforementioned research.

1. Reading

“Boys’ interest toward reading and mother tongue is lower than girls’, and reading and mother tongue have a strong correlation to learning. That’s why it’s of the most important to find ways to motivate boys to read.

2. Evaluation

Teachers need more tools to evaluate students. More tools, exams, perhaps, would be needed to make sure that not a single student passes the comprehensive school without diverse skills in literacy and other basic skills.

3. Collective school culture

Those schools that have a good team spirit and a social, equal school culture free of bullying, produce the best study results also for boys.

4. Motivation and the significance of education

The link between motivation and study results is undeniable. That’s why everything has to be done to motivate boys. “Boys are boys” type of attitude leads to more problems and is a disservice to a young man.