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Equally prepared for life?

How 15-year-old boys and girls perform in school

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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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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.

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