By Ainsley Smith
Education systems have made major strides to close gender gaps in student performance, but girls and boys remain deeply divided in career choices, a new report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) shows.
Career choices are are also being made much earlier in life, the report said.
The study used data from The programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which tested reading, math and science to examine gender differences in education.
PISA uses international surveys to evaluate education systems worldwide by testing the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students.
The study showed that many countries have made significant progress in closing the gender gap in many areas. New stats are also showing girls today may outperform boys in some areas of education and are less likely to drop out of school. Also, young men are more likely to have low levels of skills and academic achievement, which makes them more likely to leave school early.
Across the 64 nations examined, females are much less likely to consider careers in science and math-based subjects and to have the same self-confidence as boys in these areas.
The study also revealed that girls are more likely to suffer from math anxiety — even those who do well in the subject.
Theresa Walker, a high-school math teacher at Westview Secondary School, said that she does notice a slight divide within her classroom.
“I have noticed that female students do tend to struggle in my math classes, no matter how hard they study,” Walker said.
Overall, less than one in 20 girls consider working in science, technology, engineering and mathematics compared to one in five boys, despite the sexes achieving similar results in international science tests.
“When I find a student is struggling, I always encourage them to stay focused and to not get discouraged by their classmates,” Walker said.
The study also found that “the countries where girls tend to do particularly well in reading are also those where girls tend to do as well as boys in mathematics, or where the gap in mathematics in favour of boys is small.”
On average, Canadian boys spend 4.6 hours a week on homework, and girls spend 6.4 hours per week, said the study. The OECD average was 4.2 for boys and 5.5 for boys.
“These results strongly suggest that gender gaps in school performance are not determined by innate differences in ability,” the report said, “calling on parents, teachers and policy makers to help identify and change social factors that contribute to the gender gaps.”
The study on the gender gap in education also found:
- Boys are more likely than girls to play video games.
- Boys are more likely than girls to spend time on computers and the Internet.
- Boys are less likely than girls to read outside of school for enjoyment.
- Boys are less likely than girls to enjoy activities connected with reading.
- Boys are more likely than girls to play chess and program computers.
- Boys are less likely than girls to do homework.
- Boys are more likely than girls to have negative attitudes towards school.
- Boys are more likely than girls to arrive late for school.
- Boys are less likely than girls to engage in school-related work out of intrinsic motivation.
How to narrow – or close – the gender gaps in education:
In order to close down the gender gaps in education, parents can give both their sons or daughters equal support and encouragement on all of their school work and aspirations for their future endeavors.
Teachers can help their students by becoming aware of gender biases that may affect how they grade their students.