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Do men and women learn differently?
Men and women should be equal in terms of opportunities to exercise their full potential, but they are not identical in their innate abilities. Whether they equal is a political or moral question, but whether they are identical is a scientific one

THE RESEARCH in neuroscience has shown subtle differences in the functioning of the brains of men and women. Women’s left and right hemispheres of brain get activated when exposed to new concrete experiences in an emotional setting. While in the case of men, it is the left hemisphere that gets activated whether experience is concrete or abstract. This has implications for learning environment and teaching techniques. The emotionally charged learning environment coupled with cooperative learning and multiple intelligences approach to instruction are seen appropriate for making science and mathematics learning compatible to both girls and boys, a case for this position has been built in the paper.

The last decade saw a spurt in research activities related to gender and education. Gender sensitivity and gender equity in education have become the key concern for educators and neuroscientists. On the basis of past lived experiences of men and women during their evolutionary periods, Pease and Pease (2003) explain the difference between men and women as follows:

"Men and women are different: Not better or worse – different. Just about the only thing they have in common is that they belong to the same set of species. They live in different worlds, with different values and different set of rules. Women criticise men for being insensitive, uncaring, not listening, not being warm and compassionate, not talking while men think they are the most sensible sex. Men and women have evolved differently because they had to. Men hunted, women gathered. Men protected, women nurtured. As a result, their bodies and brains evolved completely different ways. Over millions of years, the brain structures of men and women continued to change in different ways.

"Now, we know, the sexes process information differently. They think differently. They believe different things. They have different perceptions, priorities and behaviours. Men and women should be equal in terms of their opportunities to exercise their full potential, but they are not identical in their innate abilities. Whether men and women are equal is a political or moral question, but whether they are identical is a scientific one."

Due to these differences, highlighted by Pease and Pease, the following conclusions are made:

  • Women have wider peripheral vision while men have tunnel vision
  • Women have a better ability to predict outcomes of relationships
  • Women are more touchy
  • Women have higher perceptiveness to concrete experiences, verbal, vocal and body language aspects.

Left, right and centre of human brain

In the last three decades, a lot of progress has been made in neuroscience-based understanding of human brain. With the new and sensitive brain scanning equipment and devices, neuroscientists have found, which part and region of the brain, handles which task. The functions of the two hemispheres of the brain are summarised in the following table.

Left hemisphere of brain’s functions are: Facts, information, quantification, verbal skills, logic liner analytical thinking, words of a poem and a song, detailing, right side of the body, analysis and linking of competition.

Right hemisphere’s functions are: Cretaivity, artistic ability, visual – spacial ability, ideas, intuition – imagination, tune of a poem or a song, holistic – big picture – synthesis, multi-processing, left side of the body and linking for cooperation.

Gorski (1987) has found that a woman’s brain has a thicker corpus callosum as compared to that of man. The research shows that women have 30 per cent more connections between the left and right hemispheres of the brain. Further the research also indicates that the female hormone estrogens promote nerve cells to grow more connections within the brain and between its hemispheres. This implies that women have the following advantages:

  • Ability for multi-track activities
  • Intuition
  • Larger range of sensory perceptions
  • Faster transfer of information between two hemispheres of the brain
  • Speech fluency.

Currently, the brain-scanning instrument can show the activities of the brain on a television or computer screen using the techniques of Positron Emission Topography (PET) and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). Using these techniques, Shaywit and Bennett (1995) have found that there are different centre in the brain for seeing, hearing, generating and speaking words. And, men use mainly their left brain for these language tasks while women use both left and right. Thus, the brains of men and women operate differently.

Implications for teaching – Learning process

The emotionally charged and non-competitive learning environment alongwith use of cooperative learning (Slavin, 1980) and multiple–intelligences (Gardner, 1999) techniques of learning can be helpful for teaching subjects like mathematics and science so that both the brains get connected to appeal to women for learning these subjects well. It has been rightly said that what is good for women is also good in for men but reverse may not be equally true.

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