Friday, December 5, 2008

Gifted Boys and Girls: Positive Discrimination or Abolishing Discrimination?

In a nutshell:
The number of boys identified as gifted is significantly larger than that of girls. This phenomenon is worldwide. The Israel Ministry of Education is a pioneer in deciding to change the screening test, in order to eliminate the gap between boys and girls.

Photo courtesy of Menlo School

An accepted way of identifying gifted children, who deserve to participate in special gifted education programs, is using a screening test. Typically, the number of girls passing the test is considerably smaller than that of boys. The Israel Ministry of Education has announced today, as reported in the "Yedioth Acharonot" newspaper, of a plan to adjust the test, in order to enlarge the number of girls passing it. The new test will include sections of creativity and motivation, which typically, according to the report, characterize more girls than boys.

Is this a justified move?

The first question to pose is – is the gap in test results due to a gap between the number of gifted girls and gifted boys? I have no doubt the answer is negative.

Shlomit Rachmel, head of the Dept. of Gifted Education in the Ministry of Education, rightly states that girls generally score higher than boys do in the advanced levels of Mathematics and Physics in matriculation exams, as well as in academic studies.

However, I believe it is impossible to answer the question – is there a difference between the level of intelligence of men and that of women? – until a specific definition of intelligence is given. The very definition of giftedness is necessarily arbitrary, to a certain extent, since the authors of the test determine which criterions will serve to assess the examinees. If, for instance, creative thinking is declared an integral part of intelligence, then we see intelligence as requiring (also) creative thinking; if it is not so decided, then creative thinking is not necessary to score well in the exam. Intelligence tests, as the saying goes, are a perfect tool to predict the ability to score well in intelligence tests.

The question is, therefore – how should we define intelligence? What criterions should be included in the definition? Given the data about different thinking habits (or skills) between girls and boys, should the tests be adjusted in order to include skills and habits of both sexes? The answer is undoubtedly – Yes. There is no reason to decide that high intelligence should be limited to the characteristic abilities of just one sex.

Is the rewriting of the test a case of positive discrimination? Here the answer is negative: positive discrimination took place up until now, at least in several countries (Israel included), where girls were accepted to the programs based on a slightly lower grade than that required of boys. As opposed to that, the newly adjusted tests are meant to eliminate the need for positive discrimination, and to the contrary – it will prevent a continuing discrimination against the gifted girls. ,


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