The issue of the “boy gap” or “boy crisis” in education has been the subject ofincreasing attention across a number of OECD countries. The issue has also captured the attention of the Canadian media. As the Globe and Mail recently emphasized in their six-part series on ‘failing boys’:
“data suggests that boys, as a group, rank behind girls by nearly every measure of scholastic achievement. They earn lower grades overall in elementary school and high school. They trail in reading and writing, and 30 per cent of them land in the bottom quarter of standardized tests, compared with 19 per cent of girls. Boys are also more likely to be picked out for behavioural problems, more likely to repeat a grade and to drop out of school altogether”. (Globe and Mail, October 15, 2010)
Given the importance of this issue and the need to better understand the situation in boys' education, this report draws on material and data from a review of websites, research reports and relevant data sources, as well as informal consultations with some official and expert sources, to scope out four main questions:
1. What is the situation regarding education and training participation and
results for boys and men throughout the OECD, including post-secondary
education and trades?
2. Are there policies and practices in place to attenuate unfavourable trends?
3. What are Canadian jurisdictions doing?
4. What do we know about the success and failure of various models OECDwide
with a focus on Germany, the United States, Australia and the United
It should be noted that there is a substantial disconnect between public policy commentary on issues in the “developed” and “non-developed” worlds. In the latter, priority attention continues to be centred on the barriers and obstacles faced by females in education and the labour market. Access to education in all its forms is still significantly more available to males in such countries. The UN Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI) is focused on ensuring that a gender equity
and equality perspective is brought to bear within the broad context of the UN’s Education for All (EFA) initiative, and is reflected in the Global Monitoring Reports issued by the EFA.
In is also the case that attention within OECD countries continues to be paid to the traditional barriers faced by women in many areas of education and
employment. A “question scan” done by CCL for the British Columbia Ministry of
Advanced Education only a few years ago identified a number of studies and
reports on the issue of gender in PSE access; all of them focused on the
question of female participation and access, none on the “boy crisis”.
It is also the case that attention in several OECD jurisdictions has shifted in some circles in the past number of years to the phenomenon of a substantial shortfall of the percentage of males, compared to females, who complete secondary schooling, and who are enrolled in and graduate from PSE. The implications of this “boy gap” are increasingly being pondered in such countries as Canada, the U.S., the U.K. and Australia. The statistical picture in terms of this gender gap, as
shown in literacy rates, school achievement in literacy, and participation and success in university studies, has been quite clear in such jurisdictions for two decades and more; the implications of this gap, however, are not at all a matter of consensus. Nor are the public policy and program responses either clear or consistent.
Question 1: What is the situation for boys and men throughout the OECD,
including PSE and the trades?
The purpose of this section is to present general statistics on performance and participation in education and training for both boys/young men and girls/young women across OECD countries. The data have been selected to provide a preliminary overview that can be used to direct further research and analysis.
Given the parameters of this project, it is not possible to complete a comprehensive survey of data. For the purposes of this paper, the focus is on Australia, Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States, using a limited number of variables.
This first section focuses entirely on statistics and trends. It becomes obvious early in any consideration of this issue that its complexity and multifaceted nature present challenges. For clarity, the findings below are presented by educational sector.
1. Overview—general trends over time The relationship between education and skill development has been a well explored topic over the last decade, with many countries concluding that highly skilled and educated citizens are essential to meet the challenges of globalization and the knowledge economy. In an effort to help understand the complex network and inter-relationship of factors that influence individuals to participate and succeed in education and training, researchers have undertaken detailed research on educational outcomes and the influences on motivation, participation and completion of education.
Over the last couple of decades there has been increasing emphasis on maximizing the participation of under-represented groups such as immigrants, women and other minorities in education. Along the way, an interesting trend has emerged that is now clearly illustrated by the statistics—the statistics indicate that, overall, girls and women tend to do better in school environments, outperforming males. This is evident in both the secondary- and higher-education sectors. Research shows that girls/young women and boys/young men have distinctly different experiences in the various educational sectors.
For many years, gender-related research in the K–12 sector was focused on dropout rates in secondary schools. These rates were usually significantly higher for boys than girls, a trend which held across OECD countries.
The OECD PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment), designed to explore “the educational performance and attitudes of adolescent males and females”, provides data to answer questions related to why female and male students perform differently. Ironically, one of the main rationales for PISA was to determine why females appeared disinterested in, and tended to be less successful in, mathematics and the physical sciences. However, PISA findings that demonstrated that boys had difficulty in the area of reading spurred further research into literacy among boys and, eventually, the design of specific
interventions to address related issues.
Statistical evidence about gender differences among young boys and girls is quite detailed. The OECD report, “Equally Prepared for Life?”, provides a summary of gender issues from early childhood based on results from PISA,
PIRLS (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study), TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) and other statistics that are gathered regularly.
Some of the main findings across OECD countries include1:
• Gender differences appear at early stages of education but they are small.
Females show better performance in reading in primary schools.
• Females showed significantly higher reading achievement than males in all (except two) countries by Grade 4. (2004 data)
• At Grade 4, the results for mathematics and science were mixed. Males had significantly higher scores for math in 12 countries while females had significantly higher scores in eight countries. In science, the scores for males and females were somewhat similar in more than half the countries
• By Grade 8, on average, females had higher achievement than males in mathematics, although there were country variations. (2007) The same was true for science.
• Although PISA 2006 showed no significant differences between males and females in the overall performance in science, females were better identifying scientific issues while males were better at explaining phenomena scientifically.
- In the PISA 2009 reading assessment, girls outperform boys in every participating country by an average, among OECD countries, of 39 PISA score points—equivalent to more than half a proficiency level or one year
- On average across OECD countries, boys outperform girls in mathematics by 12 score points while gender differences in science performance tend to be small, both in absolute terms and when compared with the large 1 OECD, “Equally Prepared for Life?” 2009, pp. 3; 10–12;16–19; 2–24 and 27.