1996-3777 (online)
1990-8539 (print)
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A series of reports on the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment’s (PISA) periodic testing program on student performance. The reports generally compare student (15 year olds) academic performance across countries, or discuss the methodology used to gather the data.

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Equally prepared for life?

Equally prepared for life?

How 15-year-old boys and girls perform in school You or your institution have access to this content

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16 Sep 2009
9789264064072 (PDF) ;9789264063945(print)

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This report explores the educational performance and attitudes of males and females during childhood and adolescence. It opens with a general summary of gender differences measured outside of the PISA assessment programme and then considers the knowledge gained about gender-related issues from PISA 2000, PISA 2003 and PISA 2006 when reading, mathematics and science respectively were the major domains of assessment. Among the key findings: in reading in PISA 2000, females significantly outscored males in all countries; in mathematics in PISA 2003, males outscored females somewhat; in the combined science scale in PISA 2006, there was no overall significant difference observed between males and females. However, when examining the various science competencies, knowledge components and attitudes to science, there were some marked differences.
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  • Foreword, Table of Contents, Reader's Guide

    Reader’s Guide

    Data underlying the figures

    The data referred to in this report are presented in Appendix B and, with additional detail, on the PISA website (www.pisa.oecd.org). Five symbols are used to denote missing data:

    • a The category does not apply in the country concerned. Data are therefore missing.
    • c There are too few observations to provide reliable estimates (i.e. there are fewer than 30 students or less than 3% of students for this cell, or too few schools for valid inferences).
    • m Data are not available or have been removed for technical reasons.
    • w Data have been withdrawn at the request of the country concerned.
    • x Data are included in another category or column of the table.
  • Gender matters?

    For the past few decades there has been an increasing interest in the different educational experiences, success and eventual outcomes that prevail for males and for females. The interest in this area was fuelled in part by a perceived lack of interest and success of females in a number of areas of schooling – notably mathematics and the physical sciences. In more recent times there has also been a focus on the lack of engagement and success of males, especially in the area of reading.

    Educational policy has to take into account the existence of gender differences in performance to be effective in promoting quality student outcomes and equity. This report draws heavily on the OECD’s Programme for International Assessment (PISA) where it has been found that female students do better in reading (OECD, 2001) and male students do somewhat better in mathematics (OECD, 2004). In science, the picture is more complex. It has been found that student attitudes and engagement explain, in part, gender difference in mathematics and reading, a finding that, by itself, can foster a better understanding of how students learn and thereby help design more effective educational policies (OECD, 2007a).

  • What does the literature say about gender differences from early childhood to the labour market?
    In recent years there has been much interest in investigating potential links between the structure of the brain and differing educational outcomes for males and females. The OECD report, Understanding the Brain: The Birth of a Learning Science (OECD, 2007b), synthesised progress on the brain informed approach to learning (that is a detailed consideration of the relationship between the structure of the brain and a child’s capacity and approach to learning) and addressed a number of key educational issues. There are, indeed, functional and morphological differences between the male and female brain. The male brain is larger, for instance, but when it comes to language, the relevant areas of the brain are more strongly activated in females. Determining the importance of these differences in structure is extremely difficult. No study to date has shown gender-specific processes involved in building up the networks in the brain during learning.
  • What did pisa 2000 tell us about gender differences in reading?
    PISA 2000 focused on reading and studied gender differences in great detail. One of the main findings of the initial PISA 2000 report was that females outperform males in reading and in all of its subcomponents. It was also the case that females showed a lot more interest than males in reading and in part this explains the performance gap.
  • Conclusion

    The extent to which males and females have different outcomes in education and the labour market is an extremely complex discussion. This report shows that there are, indeed, significant differences in many areas. The evolution of these differences provides some challenging issues for parents and educators.

    At the primary education level, studies by the IEA indicate few gender differences in science and mathematics, but a clear advantage to females in reading.

  • Appendix A

    Decisions about the scope and nature of the assessments and the background information to be collected are made by leading experts in participating countries, with the overall project being steered jointly by governments on the basis of shared, policy-driven interests. The frameworks for assessing scientific, reading and mathematical literacy in 2006 are described in full in Assessing Scientific, Reading and Mathematical Literacy: A Framework for PISA 2006 (OECD, 2006a). Substantial efforts and resources are devoted to achieving cultural and linguistic breadth and balance in the assessment materials. Stringent quality assurance mechanisms are applied in translation, sampling and data collection. As a consequence, the results of PISA have a high degree of validity and reliability.

    Although PISA was originally created by the governments of OECD countries, 27 partner countries and economies participated in PISA 2006 in addition to the 30 OECD countries, making a total of 57 participating countries.

  • Appendix B
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