New study reveals progress still needed for educational gender equality

Alicante's Guardia Civil investigating drunk lorry driver zigzagging on the motorway. Image: Guardia Civil

SECONDARY school girls in Spain are better at reading and less likely to have to resit subjects, a new study has revealed.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has released a report on gender equality in education, revealing that 15-year-old girls did better at reading comprehension but worse at maths and science in PISA International Students’ Evaluations.

Although girls got an average score of 503 for reading while boys only reached an average of 474, they scored an average of 16 points less for maths and seven points less for science.

The differences observed in achievement for boys and girls are partly down to their perception of different subjects and self-confidence, the report states, with 15-year-old girls admitting to feeling less confident in their ability to solve problems and getting anxious over them.

On a worldwide scale, progress in search of gender equality in education has so far not been enough to eliminate the differences between the sexes due to emotional, behavioural and also social factors, the study reports.

“The good news is that advances have been made towards the goal of equality and expensive changes are not needed to reach it. The bad news is that to eliminate the differences, factors which are very deeply ingrained in our behaviour need changing,” Education director for OECD, Andreas Schleicher, explained.

Schleicher said: “These differences cannot be considered innate. They are the result of acquired behaviour and attitudes and must be fought to allow students to reach their full potential.”

Students’ attitudes are also affected by those of parents and teachers, who often follow traditional views on which sex is better suited to a particular area.

“Even in cases of identical performance in maths, boys tend to be given a higher result than girls because they are expected to head more in that direction in their professional futures and need to be encouraged to study,” Schleicher said.

Just one out of 20 girls imagine themselves working in science or technology, where the best paid jobs can be found, as opposed to four out of 20 boys, although PISA results show that their abilities are practically equal.

“The gender divide continues, whether we are in Sweden or Finland or in southern Europe where views are traditionally more sexist,” Schleicher declared.

The report shows that although there are no inborn differences in potential achievement, boys and girls use their abilities differently.

Girls dedicate more time to homework and studies, have a better view of their schooling as a positive thing and involve themselves more in their studies.

Meanwhile boys are more likely to think that school is a waste of time, yet females are more likely to be encouraged to give up their studies by their parents or boyfriends.

“The ABC against gender inequality, as we call it, is aimed at the attitudes of parents, teachers and students,” Schleicher concluded.

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