In mathematics, the gender gap in favor of boys in the early grades is gradually closing, according to a new publication from UNESCO’s Global Education Monitoring Report.
The report invites us to think more about gender inequality and the barriers that still prevent girls from reaching their potential. Deepening the debate on those who are still being left behind, an annual UNESCO report on gender equality analyzed data from 120 countries in primary and secondary education to offer a holistic picture.
The results show that in the early years, boys do better than girls in mathematics, but this gender gap disappears later. This research confirms that the gender gap in learning has been closing even in the poorest countries. And in some countries, the gap has now reversed.
For example, in grade 8, the gap is in favor of girls in mathematics by 7 percentage points in Malaysia, 3 points in Cambodia, 1.7 points in Congo and 1.4 points in the Philippines.
However, prejudices and stereotypes are always likely to affect learning outcomes. Even though girls are catching up in mathematics in upper primary and secondary education, boys are much more likely to be overrepresented among the top performers in mathematics in all countries.
In middle- and high-income countries, secondary school girls score significantly higher in science. Despite this advantage, girls are still less likely to opt for scientific careers, indicating that gender biases may still pose barriers to pursuing higher education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
Girls outperform boys in reading If girls do well in math and science, they do even better in reading. More girls than boys achieve a minimum proficiency level in reading.
The largest gap in primary education is in Saudi Arabia, where 77% of girls but only 51% of boys in grade 4 achieve a minimum proficiency level in reading.
In Thailand, girls outperform boys in reading by 18 percentage points, in the Dominican Republic by 11 points and in Morocco by 10 points. Even in countries where girls and boys are at the same level in early grade reading, such as Lithuania and Norway, the gap in favor of girls reaches around 15 percentage points by age 15.
“While more data is needed, recent publications have helped paint a nearly global picture of gender gaps in learning outcomes just before the pandemic. Girls outperform boys in reading and science and are catching up behind in math. But they are still far less likely to be the best in math because of persistent biases and stereotypes. We need gender equality in learning and ensuring that every learner achieves its potential,” said Manos Antoninis, Director of UNESCO’s Global Education Monitoring Report.
The researchers reviewed studies from the Latin American Laboratory for Educational Quality Assessment (LLECE), CONFEMEN’s Program for the Analysis of Education Systems (PASEC), measures of primary learning in South Asia -East (SEA-PLM) and trends in international mathematics. and scientific studies (TIMSS).
Most of this data was published within the last 18 months, but refers to the situation just before the pandemic hit.
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