Girls’ performance in mathematics now equal to boys, says UNESCO

A new report by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has revealed that girls are outperforming boys in reading across all education levels.

A new publication by UNESCO’s Global Education Monitoring (GEM) said while boys performed better than girls in mathematics in the early years, this advantage had gradually disappeared as they progress in school.

The GEM report, which focused on deepening the debate on those still left behind, analysed data from 120 countries in primary and secondary education to offer a global picture.

The analysis covered countries at all income levels on gender gaps in learning outcomes. It called on countries to think harder about gender inequality and barriers that hold girls back from realising their potentials.

Findings showed that in the early years, boys perform better than girls in mathematics, but this gender gap had since disappeared.

The research confirmed that the gender gap in learning has closed even in the poorest countries. In some countries, the gap is reversed.

“Evidence showed that girls are more likely to do better in mathematics in societies where they are treated equally. However, biases and stereotypes are still likely to affect learning outcomes. Even though girls catch up in mathematics in upper primary and secondary education, boys are far more likely to be overrepresented among the highest performers in mathematics in all countries.

In middle- and high-income countries, girls in secondary schools are scoring significantly higher in science. Despite this advantage, girls are still less likely to opt for scientific careers, indicating that gender biases could still be obstacles to the pursuit of further education in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. Besides, when girls perform well in mathematics and science, they perform even better in reading. This may be another reason girls are less likely to opt for STEM careers,” the report said.

Director of UNESCO’s GEM Report, Manos Antoninis, said: “More girls achieve minimum proficiency in reading than boys. Although more data is needed, recent releases have helped paint an almost global picture of gender gaps in learning outcomes right before the pandemic. Girls are doing better than boys in reading and in science and are catching up in mathematics. But they are far less likely to be top performers in mathematics. We need gender equality in learning and ensure that every learner fulfills his or her potential.

Antoninis noted that the gender gap in learning is closing in Nigeria and other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.

“Girls outperform boys in learning in general. Boys perform better than girls in mathematics in early grades, but evidence is starting to show that even in poorer countries, girls catch up later. Yet, boys are far more likely to be over-represented among highest performers in mathematics.

“Girls have closed or reversed gaps in education access and completion. Gender gaps in enrolment and attendance have been declining over the past 20 years with less than one percentage point gender gap remaining in all three levels of education. Sub-Saharan Africa is the region furthest from parity at the expense of girls with no progress since 2011 at the lower secondary level and since 2014 in upper secondary,” Antoninis said.


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