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Thursday, May 6, 1999 Published at 09:55 GMT 10:55 UK


Computer software 'too macho for girls'

The research questions whether boys are better computer users

Computer software is "handicapping" girls because it is too macho, according to researchers.

Although the performance of boys lags behind girls in many subjects, it had been believed that they were more effective users of computers.

But research from the Open University, Bournemouth University and the University of Hertfordshire suggests that girls can outperform boys on computers if the problems they have to solve use less masculine images.

The research into the computer skills of 11 and 12-year-olds found that boys performed well in problem-solving exercises which used pirates, ships and planes and other "male" images.

[ image: Boys are more confident in problems using
Boys are more confident in problems using "male" images, such as pirates and planes
But when the same problems were presented using softer, more feminine images such as teddy bears, girls were more successful than the boys.

According to the researchers, the "images and metaphors used...had a crucial bearing on girls' performance".

Dr Karen Littleton, of the Open University's psychology department, said: "What we hope we have demonstrated is that where you see what looks like a deficit in performance, it may be because of the task children have been set."

The academic underachievement of boys has been a longstanding problem at schools across the UK. In England, the latest National Curriculum test results for English showed that girls were better at reading and writing at all levels, with the ability gap widening.

In an attempt to make reading more attractive to boys, the Education Secretary, David Blunkett, has said that revised National Curriculum guidelines should include an emphasis on providing books specifically intended to appeal to boys.

The differences in how boys and girls learn have also prompted calls for more lessons to be taught in single-sex classes.

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