A new report from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development has examined gender differences in education, particularly discussing underperformance among boys, a lack of self confidence in girls, and influences that stem from family life, school, and society.
The report, “The ABC of Gender Equality in Education: Aptitude, Behaviour, Confidence,” attempts to uncover the reason why 15-year-old boys are typically more likely than girls to not become proficient in reading, math, and science, as well as why 15-year-old girls, who are high-achieving in other areas, are unable to do so in the areas of math, science, and problem-solving in comparison to underachieving boys. PISA results from 2012 indicate 14% of boys and 9% of girls were unable to attain the PISA level of proficiency in any of the three core subjects.
Meanwhile, girls from the top-performing PISA countries such as Shanghai-China, Singapore, Hong Kong-China, and Chinese Taipei, performed at the same level as their male classmates in math, outperforming boys from most other countries around the world in the same subject.
According to the report findings, six out of ten students who did not attain the PISA baseline level of proficiency were boys. Study authors suggest that this is due to the differences in academic behavior among boys and girls. For example, boys were found to spend one less hour completing their homework every night than girls. Each hour of homework per week correlates with a four point increase in the PISA reading, math, and science exams.
Boys were found to spend more time playing video games and less time reading for enjoyment than girls.
“Reading proficiency is the foundation upon which all other learning is built; when boys don’t read well, their performance in other school subjects suffers too.”
Concerning the lack of self-confidence among girls, the authors say that not only do girls have less confidence in subjects like math and science than boys do, with not one country having girls outperform boys in these areas, but they also report stronger feelings of anxiety. While girls were able to complete problems similar to those they completed in school, when asked to “think like scientists,” girls considerably underperformed in comparison to boys.
“When students are more self-confident, they give themselves the freedom to fail, to engage in the trial-and-error processes that are fundamental to acquiring knowledge in mathematics and science.”
The authors suggest that gender disparities in education are not the result of innate differences in aptitude, but instead come from the attitude one has toward learning and their behavior in school, including how they choose to spend their leisure time and the confidence they have in themselves as students.
They go on to say that in order for girls and boys to have the confidence necessary to succeed, they each need equal support from their parents who can help to teach them to read; teachers who can encourage them to be independent; and the students themselves, who the authors say need to spend time at school “unplugged.”