Elementary school students with teacher Photo courtesy of Ilmicrofono Oggiono

A recent study by the OECD found that across 30 countries 14% of boys and 9% of girls did not meet baseline-levels of proficiency in mathematics, science, and literacy. These findings are very troubling due to the emphasis of post-secondary credentials in many industries and the impact that education has on the economic and social growth of countries. According to the report, male students are significantly more likely to have consistently lower levels of academic achievement, motivation, and graduation rates, than female students. A reason for this gap is that males spend, on average, one hour less on homework than females per day. Instead of studying or reading for leisure, the report found that males instead spend their time playing video games and other unproductive activities.

Traditional gender gaps are also consistently found within high-performing students. Women are still significantly less likely than men to enter STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields; in 2012 only 14% of women entered STEM fields compared to 39% of men. The OECD attributes this gap to women having persistently low levels of confidence in their mathematical abilities.

Gender gaps in academic achievement are attributed to motivation and not innate differences in ability. In top-performing countries like Shanghai-China, Singapore, Hong Kong-China, and Chinese Taipei, the gender gap in subjects such as mathematics was non-existent. Academic success does not just benefit individual students, it also contributes to the well-being of the economy and society. Studies have shown that higher test scores in the maths and sciences could result in an increase of $10 trillion to the United States economy by 2050.

Society has an important role to play towards dissolving gender biases in both academia and the workforce. Each student, regardless of their gender, has the ability to succeed in any academic field and find employment in any profession. All they need is some motivation to realize their potential.

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About the Author: Dustin is a senior account manager with DesignedUX, providing communications and strategy to organizations in education and technology. Dustin is also board member of the Canadian Public Relations Society and contributes as a communications researcher with McMaster University.