OECD confirms strong gender biases at school – what does that mean for Higher Education?

The new PISA report – a summary can be found here – confirms what we already know about gender biases at school. Overall, the data shows a troubling under-performance of boys when compared to the girls, and at the same time, a curious lack of confidence in girls. At the same time, the differences between male and female students look less and less as if they stem from “biological” differences: The study points out where expectations of parents and stereotype threats influence significantly the performance of the students.

  • Girls – even high-achieving girls – tend to underachieve compared to boys when they are asked to think like scientists, such as when they are asked to formulate situations mathematically or interpret phenomena scientifically.
  • Parents are more likely to expect their sons, rather than their daughters, to work in a science, technology, engineering or mathematics field – even when their 15-year-old boys and girls perform at the same level in mathematics.

Also worthwhile noting: High performing education system are able to reduce the gap between boys and girls. There, we find less of the underachieving boys and more confident girls.

If we expect that first year students at university will still follow this pattern, what does that mean for the fields and their gender distribution?

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