A unfortunate gap between females and males continues to grow. It’s great that females are improving their skills in general, but the males are falling behind which means half the world is struggling.
I was reading the PISA 2009 assessments and below are some major points to be noted (the entire document is over 20 pages)
Throughout much of the 20th century, concern about gender differences in education focused on girls’ underachievement. More recently, however, the scrutiny has shifted to boys’ underachievement in reading. In the PISA 2009 reading assessment, girls outperform boys in every participating country by an average, among OECD countries, of 39 PISA score points – equivalent to more than half a proficiency level or one year of schooling.
- On average across OECD countries, boys outperform girls in mathematics by 12 score points while gender differences in science performance tend to be small, both in absolute terms and when compared with the large gender gap in reading performance and the more moderate gender gap in mathematics.
The ranks of top-performing students are filled nearly equally with girls and boys. On average across OECD countries, 4.4% of girls and 3.8% of boys are top performers in all three subjects, and 15.6% of girls and 17.0% of boys are top performers in at least one subject area. While the gender gap among top-performing students is small in science (1% of girls and 1.5% of boys), it is significant in reading (2.8% of girls and 0.5% of boys) and in mathematics (3.4% of girls and 6.6% of boys).
Similar prosperity…different educational results
- Countries of similar prosperity can produce very different educational results. The balance of proficiency in some of the richer countries in PISA looks very different from that of some of the poorer countries. In reading, for example, the ten countries in which the majority of students are at Level 1 or below, all in poorer parts of the world, contrast starkly in profile with the 34 OECD countries, where on average a majority attains at least Level 3. However, the fact that the best-performing country or economy in the 2009 assessment is Shanghai-China, with a GDP per capita well below the OECD average, underlines that low national income is not incompatible with strong educational performance. Korea, which is the best-performing OECD country, also has a GDP per capita below the OECD average.
- Indeed, while there is a correlation between GDP per capita and educational performance, this predicts only 6% of the differences in average student performance across countries. The other 94% of differences reflect the fact that two countries of similar prosperity can produce very different educational results. Results also vary when substituting spending per student, relative poverty or the share of students with an immigrant background for GDP per capita.
Enjoying the Learning: NO
In all countries, boys are not only less likely than girls to say that they read for enjoyment, they also have different reading habits when they do read for pleasure. Most boys and girls in the countries that took part in PISA 2009 sit side by side in the same classrooms and work with similar teachers. Yet, PISA reveals that in OECD countries, boys are on average 39 points behind girls in reading, the equivalent of one year of schooling.
PISA suggests that differences in how boys and girls approach learning and how engaged they are in reading account for most of the gap in reading performance between boys and girls, so much so that this gap could be predicted to shrink by 14 points if boys approached learning as positively as girls, and by over 20 points if they were as engaged in reading as girls. This does not mean that if boys’ engagement and awareness of learning strategies rose by this amount the increase would automatically translate into respective performance gains, since PISA does not measure causation.
But since most of the gender gap can be explained by boys being less engaged, and less engaged students show lower performance, then policy makers should look for more effective ways of increasing boys’ interest in reading at school or at home.
PISA reveals that, although girls have higher mean reading performance, enjoy reading more and are more aware of effective strategies to summarise information than boys, the differences within genders are far greater than those between the genders. Moreover, the size of the gender gap varies considerably across countries, suggesting that boys and girls do not have inherently different interests and academic strengths, but that these are mostly acquired and socially induced. The large gender gap in reading is not a mystery: it can be attributed to differences that have been identified in the attitudes and behaviours of boys and girls. Girls are more likely than boys to be frequent readers of fiction, and are also more likely than boys to read magazines.
However, over 65% of boys regularly read newspapers for enjoyment and only 59% of girls do so. Although relatively few students say that they read comic books regularly, on average across OECD countries, 27% of boys read comic books several times a month or several times a week, while only 18% of girls do so.
Many issues will arise as females become more capable in contrast to their male counter parts. Although International Women’s day has just past, let us not forget the other half.