Gender gap emerges in maths and science in Irish secondary schools

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

Irish secondary school students perform near the top of the world when it comes to reading skills.

Almost 6,000 15-year-olds in Ireland took part in a major international study in which they came third in the OECD in literacy skills.

They also performed above average in science and maths.

The Programme for International Student Assessment study tests about 500,000 15-year-old students across 72 countries, including the OECD 35. The study is undertaken every three years and 2015’s testing was carried out on computers for the first time.

In reading, Irish students ranked third out of the OECD 35, second among the EU countries and fifth out of the 72 countries that were tested.

However, when it came to science, which was the major study domain, our students did not perform as well.

They ranked 13th out of the OECD 35, sixth among EU countries and 19th overall.

They also ranked 13th in maths of the OECD countries, ninth among EU countries and 18th out of the 72 countries.

Despite the maths ranking, Irish students scored a mean result of 504 in the 2015 testing, which is their highest score since 2003.

When it comes to our students’ historic performance in science since 2006, they have always performed above the OECD average despite increases and decreases in their own test results.

In 2012 for example, Irish students scored a mean average of 522 compared with the OECD average of 501 for that testing period.

Whereas for 2015, the students scored 503 on average in science and the OECD average result was 493. This was their lowest result since 2006.

However, many countries saw their science scores fall in the 2015 round of testing.

The average decrease for the OECD 35 was 8% from 2015 to 2012, whereas places like Hong Kong (China) saw their science scores fall by 31.7%.

Students were asked, as an aside to the testing, how they engaged with science.

At 16.8%, the most common way of engaging was through TV programmes. The next most popular way, at 14.4%, was through science-related websites.

The publication of the results was welcomed widely yesterday, though many said we need to address our students’ teaching and learning of science and maths.

“I think there are some really strong results here in terms of reading in particular, where Ireland is third among those OECD countries, a very strong performance for Ireland in reading and that shows right across all domains,” said Education Minister Richard Bruton.

Clive Byrne, the director of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals, also commended students on the results.

“We should be very proud of our teachers, students and their parents in achieving these wonderful results on an international stage,” Mr Byrne said.

The general secretary of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland, Kieran Christie, also welcomed the “good news” despite the “harrowing cutbacks” of the recession.

Numbers add up for reading literacy but not maths

Caitlin and Caoimhe Egan, 7 and 5, from Carrigtwohill, at the recent Cork Science Festival in Western Gateway, UCC. Picture: Diane Cusack

Irish secondary school students rank third out of the 35 OECD countries when it comes to reading skills.

Of the total 72 countries included in the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) study, Irish students ranked fifth overall in terms of their reading ability.

Some 500,000 15-year-old students were tested in the PISA study, with 5,741 students in Ireland taking part from 167 schools.

Irish students received a mean score of 503 points in science, which was significantly higher than the OECD average (493).

The science score ranked our students at 19th of the 72 countries that were tested.

Irish students received a mean score of 521 points in reading, placing them third of the OECD 35 and in fifth place overall.

Irish students scored 504 points on average in maths, which was significantly higher than the OECD average (490), but 18th out of the 72 countries tested.

Science was the “major domain” in which students were tested for the 2015 study, with reading and maths tested as minor domains.

All testing was carried out on computers for the first time.

In Ireland, 60.5% of females and 54% of males had never taken a test on a computer before.

Singapore scored the highest points in science, with a score of 556, as well as reading literacy (535), and mathematics (564).

In second place in science was Japan with a mark of 538, with Estonia ranked third on a score of 534.

In terms of a trend, Ireland continues to beat the OECD average when it comes to science.

In 2012 the OECD average score was 501 and Ireland scored 522 points, while three years later, for the latest study, the OECD average score was 493 and Ireland scored 503 points.

Many countries saw a decrease in their science score between 2012 and 2015.

While China experienced the sharpest decrease with a 31.7% drop, Ireland’s results in science fell by 19.4%.

The average OECD fall in science was 8%.

There were major gender differences in how Irish boys and girls tested in the three domains of science, maths, and reading.

Irish males scored 11 points higher in science than females and 16 points higher in maths.

However, Irish girls scored 12 points higher in their reading skills than boys.

Some 16.8% of Irish 15-year-olds engage with science via TV programmes, 13.1% by following related news on blogs and websites, and 14.4% of teenagers visit science-dedicated websites.

However, engagement in such activities is lower, on average, than across the OECD countries.

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