Monday, 14 July 2008
A recent article in The Sun, Baltimore's newspaper, focused on research into factors that explain the differences between boys and girls in math and reading test scores. These scientists examined math and reading scores on standardized tests given to thousands of 15-year-old students in more than 40 countries. They also examined how each country dealt with gender equality issues. Typically, females scored lower in math than males, but girls did better in reading than boys.
In countries that have very progressive gender equality policies such as Norway and Iceland, girls performed almost equally with boys on math skills, according to The Sun’s report on the research. The United States ranked somewhat in the middle, with boys outperforming girls, while other nations such as Turkey had relatively low test scores for girls as compared with boys. Throughout the world, girls have scored higher in reading, and that advantage has become even greater in those countries with a higher emphasis on gender equality.
This study generally tracks earlier studies. The findings of college professors in Maryland indicate that the gap in math between the genders has been shrinking over time. With the widespread acknowledgement that both sexes need to learn math, attitudes are changing. In 2007, more than 125,000 girls and 142,000 boys took the college board’s Advance Placement Calculus Exam. Ten years ago, the number taking the exam was half that size, but in roughly the same gender proportions. On the traditional SAT, girls are still scoring lower proportionally, but more of them are taking the exam.
For many educators, the differences in math, while important, aren't nearly as serious as the differences in reading skills. Boys are scoring lower in reading tests and as compared with girls, the gap is increasing. Maybe part of our emphasis in education should include social sciences and reading for men as well as sciences and mathematics. Our Body of Knowledge clearly identifies the social sciences as a key element that engineers need in order to practice at the professional level in the future.