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FROM PAGE 11 HRISTINE Jenkins is a Victorian representative of the Alliance of Girls’ Schools Australia and notes the similarities between girls and boys are greater than their differences. However, it is the differences that are important when devising an educational plan for each student. ‘‘Girls need to learn in an environment where risk-taking is encouraged but supported, as they are more likely to internalise failure or difficulty,’’ Ms Jenkins says. ‘‘If they fail a maths test, for example, they think they’re no good at maths, whereas a boy will say, ‘I failed the maths test and it might be the teacher’ or, ‘I’ll do better next time’.’’ Because boys and girls mature at different rates – the development of language skills happens earlier for girls – it is not appropriate to give all students of the same year level the same challenges. ‘‘Any group will have differences in interest, and background and skills, so we need to teach the individual rather than saying ‘they are seven year olds so that’s what they do’,’’ Ms Jenkins says. She believes some gender differences do level out during life, but many remain, with males and females displaying different attitudes to life goals and setbacks. ‘‘Girls need to develop resilience; learn how to



bounce back from difficulties. Given the right opportunities over time; they will realise that it’s worth giving things another go, not just to give up after one set back,’’ Ms Jenkins says. She is an advocate of single-sex schools for girls, believing their learning needs across the curriculum are best met in such an environment. ‘‘If you look at opportunities in sport, it’s a great trainer in team work and leadership and so on and in a girls’ school all of the sport is devoted to their needs, so they have many more opportunities to participate,’’ she says. ‘‘In the pool, for instance, girls are reluctant to put themselves forward if they have a male audience whereas in a single-sex school they’re ready to hop into the pool and do their best and they’re far less inhibited about it.’’ But isn’t this simply putting off the inevitable interaction with males and risk taking that will happen when they enter the world at large? Ms Jenkins says it is much better to equip girls with the confidence, success and skills that they will need later in life while they are in a nurturing single-sex school. ‘‘You have to give them the opportunity to take those risks while they’re still learning,’’ she says. SHAUNAGH O’CONNOR

DATE: 14/11/06

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