A Chinese lawmaker's proposal to give male students gender-specific education and easier access to college has sparked controversy.
Mr Wang Ronghua, who is the director of the Shanghai Education Development Foundation, said male students are increasingly under-represented in the country's leading schools and colleges, and are outshone by female students in college entrance exams.
This under-representation, he said, will have a negative impact on the country's science-and- technology innovation and international competitiveness.
Mr Wang gave a striking set of figures that showed a growing learning gap between male and female students.
Male students account for up to 80 per cent of the nation's 50 million students who are rated as "poor students", according to Mr Wang.
He singled out the example of Shanghai High School, one of the best senior-high schools in Shanghai, where the proportion of male students declined to 35 per cent from 65 per cent 20 years ago.
"I am afraid it will become a 'female school' in just a few years," Mr Wang said.
The reason, he said, is that male students mature slower than their female counterparts in self-control and language abilities, which are emphasised in the current entrance exams.
Mr Wang recommended that high-school education be more "differentiated" to give male students opportunities to develop their natural advantages in creative and practical skills.
But before those teaching methods become a reality, he said the bar should be lowered for male students.
China is not alone in finding that boys underperform at school.
In the United States, college- enrolment rates for women have also increased over the past 20 years. In 2005, 57 per cent of the 17.5 million undergraduate students enrolled in college were women, and the National Center for Education Statistics projects that 60 per cent of all college students will be female by 2016.
Making admission decisions based on gender is banned in the US at public schools, as well as in private graduate and professional programmes. But private liberal-arts colleges do have a legal right to consider gender in admissions.
Chinese law bans gender- based admission policies in all schools, though some "special majors" have been given an exception.
Ms Wang Xin, a mathematics teacher at Shanghai Jiaohua High School, said teachers should do more.
"Teachers in co-educational schools should let the boys shoulder some extra responsibilities, like being the class monitor, to help them develop themselves quickly and in an all- rounded way," she said, adding that she opposed differentiated admission policies and separate education.
Mr Sun Baohong, a researcher at Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, said boys do not do so well at school because they are generally spoilt by their families, as Chinese society has traditionally preferred sons.
"Parents should encourage them to take part in all kinds of activities, and especially to face up to adversities," he said.