Girls continue to outperform boys in UAE schools

The gender gap is growing across UAE schools, with girls performing better than boys, especially in terms of reading skills, according to an international report released this week.

International studies show that fourth grade girls in the UAE outperform boys in reading, science and mathematics with the gap between the two at the greatest in reading and the least in mathematics. Silvia Razgova / The National
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ABU DHABI // The gender gap is growing in schools across the UAE, according to an international report released last week.

Girls in grade 4 outperform boys in reading, science and maths, with the gap between the two greatest in reading and least in maths.

More than 14,300 pupils from 458 schools across the country were tested as part of last year’s Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study and the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study.

The assessments, carried out in 34 countries with pupils aged 10 and 14, aim to highlight what governments are doing to make their schools more effective, what teachers are doing to make classroom instruction effective, and what parents are doing to ensure their children’s academic success.

“Results show that a child’s gender can affect his or her achievement in the fourth grade,” said Chad Minnich, from Boston College’s International Study Centre, which sets the two tests.

“But education is effective when schools, teachers and parents are all invested in the process.”

The largest achievement gap between boys and girls was found in reading.

“Girls tend to be more focused than boys and read a lot more,” said Darryl Bloud, the principal at Gems Modern Academy in Dubai.

“Boys tend to be more playful at this stage and distracted by computer games.

“The findings are not surprising since this is a trend often observed in this particular age group.”

For seven countries, the difference in achievement between the genders was significant in science, and the gap was largest in the Arabian Gulf states of the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Qatar.

“Girls mature quicker and generally perform better at the primary age range in schools,” said Mark Atkins, the head of academics and education at Evolvence Knowledge Investments, a private school operator.

“They are much better disposed to form an education. If you look at a classroom, the girls really want to sit down and work. They play school at home while boys, in general, have other things on their mind. They want to play and run around.

“It is the way children are wired. Boys eventually catch up but it takes them a long time.”

Mr Atkins said the level of resources in schools was an important factor.

“In the UAE, we need to look at whether schools are getting good resources with teachers, and look at the home support for children,” he said.

Parents also have a vital role to play, he added.

“They cannot just hand over their children to school,” said Mr Atkins. “They should sit down, read with them and discuss the text.

“You have got to make time for that because children can benefit from it. There is nothing like spending time with your parents.”

Academic experts say teachers need to be aware of pupils’ different rates of progress and development, and plan a progressive curriculum that challenges and supports these acknowledged gender differences.

“Research conducted around the international educational landscape confirms that grade 4 female students outperform male students of the same age,” said Peter Winder, the principal at Al Diyafah High School in Abu Dhabi. “This continues for a number of years until the boys begin to narrow the gap and exceed the performances of their female peers at IGCSA, AS and A levels in mathematics, sciences and engineering.

“Planning an engaging and challenging curriculum that is interesting and progressive for all students and caters to their preferred learning styles and stage of development, while supporting the students’ engagement and improving their active participation to raise their attainments, is crucial.”

He said that could eventually lead to improved standards and a narrowing of the gap.