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Last Updated: Monday, 13 March 2006, 13:09 GMT
Science interests split the sexes
Teenager in science lesson
Boys and girls have widely different interests in science, researchers say
The sexes are split on science interests, researchers say, leading to calls for gender-specific syllabuses.

A survey of just over 1,200 pupils in England found the hot topic for boys was explosive chemicals while girls were more interested in the human body.

Tailoring lessons to each sex may help reverse the decline in take-up of science in schools, researchers said.

The University of Leeds report is part of a global study, Relevance of Science Education, based at Oslo University.

Report author Professor Edgar Jenkins said that the differences between the sexes could not be ignored.

But he said they were common to most of the developed world, according to research emerging from more than 40 nations taking part in the work.

He said: "We have had a generation or more now of promoting gender equality but the differences exist and I raise the question as to whether we should teach the two sexes separately for some of the time."


Prof Jenkins said the contrast was borne out by out-of-school experiences.

"Boys and girls have different experiences and want different things," he said.

The study, based on responses to 250 questions, found that boys had a strong interest in space and destructive technologies. Their top turn-off was a lesson on alternative therapies.

Favourite topics for boys were...

  • Explosive chemicals.
  • How it feels to be weightless in space.
  • How the atom bomb functions.
  • Biological and chemical weapons.
  • Black holes and supernovae.
  • How meteors, comets or asteroids cause disasters on earth.
  • The possibility of life outside earth.
  • How computers work.
  • Effect of strong electric shocks and lightning on the body.
  • Dangerous animals.

Girls, however, preferred to learn about their own bodies.

They wanted to know...

Keeping fit and the workings of the human body captured girls' interest

  • Why we dream and what it means.
  • What we know about cancer and how to treat it.
  • How to perform first-aid.
  • How to exercise to keep fit.
  • Sexually transmitted diseases and how to protect against them.
  • What we know about HIV/AIDS and how to control it.
  • Life and death and the human soul.
  • Biological and human aspects of abortion.
  • Eating disorders.
  • How alcohol and tobacco might affect the body.

The two genders did agree on what they least wanted to learn about.

Neither was interested in studying modern farming methods and neither wanted to know about "famous scientists and their lives".

The report follows years of decline in take-up of science at GCSE and A-level.

The number taking A-level physics dropped by 34% between 1991 and 2004, with 28,698 taking the subject in that year.

'Not difficult'

The decline in numbers taking chemistry over the same period was 16%, with 44,440 students sitting the subject in 1991, and 37,254 in 2004.

The number of students taking maths also dropped by 22%.

But the Leeds researchers said that while most of the pupils in the study said they did not like school science as much as other subjects they also said they did not find GCSE science difficult.

Prof Jenkins said: "We need to be much more sensitive than perhaps we have been to the needs of pupils.

"The sciences have somehow not been attracting students. We need to know why physics is so unappealing to girls."

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