The gender gap is widening when it comes to science and maths in secondary schools, with boys performing significantly better than girls in the subjects.
That is among the findings from the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) study, which tests approximately 500,000 15-year-old students across 72 countries, including the OECD 35.
In comparison to the other 71 countries, Irish students ranked 19th in science and 18th in maths.
However, boys in Ireland scored 11 points higher than girls in science and 16 points higher in maths.
The PISA study was carried out on computers for the first time in all countries and this move was one of the suggestions given as to why males outperformed females.
Boys were more tech-savvy than girls, in that more girls (60.5%) had never taken a test on a computer before compared to boys (54%).
Minister for Education Richard Bruton acknowledged the gender gap between boys and girls in science and maths performance is something that needs to be challenged.
“We very much recognise this is an area we have to work on. We will have to look at why girls are not performing as well in some of these areas. It does seem they perform really well in Leaving Certificate honours maths where they exceed the performance of boys, but in areas of technology and science, they’re not doing so well.”
He said female “role models”, already working in technology firms, would begin visiting schools as a way to address the gap.
“This [the gender performance gap] is going to be addressed on a number of fronts and we have a lot of interesting women who have gone into the technology world who are willing to come back into the schools and, I suppose, encourage people to follow that sort of a career,” the minister said.
Ibec, the body that represents Irish businesses, did not comment on the gender gap.
However, it did state that Irish students’ overall ranking in maths and science needed to be addressed.
“The overall performance in science and mathematics is not good enough to support our economic ambition. We live in a scientific and technological age.
“A major improvement in science and mathematics outcomes at school level is required if we want to compete at the highest levels,” said Tony Donohoe, the head of education policy at Ibec.
Mr Bruton said his department needed to focus on science and maths as a key challenge, in light of the study’s results.
He also said that the results showed the importance of understanding the importance of “integrating technologies” into “teaching technologies” so that students can apply their learning in practical situations, as the world becomes more and more tech-savvy.
Irish students’ reading skills second in EU
Numbers add up for reading literacy but not maths
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved