Gender Inequity in Education Not Just About Opportunity

Using data from the 2012 PISA, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has issued a new report on gender equality in education. While OECD has seen a rise in equal education opportunities for boys and girls, new inequities are emerging. The report’s authors believe, though, that many of the differences stem not from the students’ individual abilities but from how young men and women approach learning and their confidence in their abilities.

Fifteen-year-old boys are more likely than girls of the same age to be low achievers, says the report. Young men are also significantly more likely than young women to be less engaged with school, have low skills and poor academic achievement, and are more likely to leave school early. One possible reason is that boys spend one hour less per week on homework than girls. Each hour of homework per week translates into a four-point higher score in the PISA reading, mathematics and science tests. In addition, outside of school boys spend more time playing video games than girls and less time reading for enjoyment, particularly complex texts, like fiction.

Young women, on the other hand, are under-represented in the fields of mathematics, physical science and computing in higher education and beyond. The report cites lack of confidence as one of the key factors. According to the report, even high-achieving girls are more likely to express strong feelings of anxiety towards mathematics. The girls tended to do better when they were required to work on mathematical or scientific problems more similar to those that are routinely encountered in school than when asked to “think like a scientist.”

“As the evidence in the report makes clear, gender disparities in performance do not stem from innate differences in aptitude, but rather from students’ attitudes towards learning and their behaviour in school, from how they choose to spend their leisure time, and from the confidence they have – or do not have – in their own abilities as students,” commented Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary-General, in the report’s foreward. “Giving boys and girls an equal opportunity to realise their potential demands the involvement of parents, who can encourage their sons and daughters to read; teachers, who can encourage more independent problem solving among their students; and students themselves, who can spend a few more of their after-school hours ‘unplugged’.”

Read the report, The ABC of Gender Equality in Education: Aptitude, Behaviour, Confidence, at the OECD website.

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