Boys are more likely to achieve higher reading scores when they attend schools with a higher proportion of female students, according to a new study by researchers at Utrecht University in the Netherlands.
Since reading is an essential skill which can influence performance in other subject areas, the study reveals the importance of gender equality in schools.
The implication is that the greater the number of girls in the school, the more productive the learning environment. And since boys have previously been shown to be highly influenced by the school learning environment, they are therefore more likely to benefit from having more girls in the classroom.
The researchers say that traits more commonly associated with girls’ academic behavior — such as higher levels of concentration and greater motivation to perform well — may help explain their positive influence on school environment and also help clarify why girls continue to outperform boys in many educational subjects.
In addition, the findings suggest that boys may not necessarily benefit from single-sex schools and vocational education, where subjects are often heavily weighted towards a particular gender.
“Boys’ poorer reading performance really is a widespread, but unfortunately also understudied, problem. Our study shows that the issue is reinforced when boys attend schools with a predominantly male student population,” said lead author Dr. Margriet van Hek, from Utrecht University.
“Yet schools can help improve this situation by ensuring a balanced gender distribution in their student population.”
For the study, the researchers set out to investigate how school environment influences boys’ and girls’ educational performance in secondary school. They analyzed the reading test scores of more than 200,000 15-year-old students from over 8,000 mixed-gender schools around the world. They found that boys performed significantly better in schools where more than 60 percent of the pupils were girls.
The findings also suggest that single-sex and vocational schools, where subjects are often heavily weighted towards a particular gender, may not be beneficial to boys’ learning. Policymakers should therefore consider introducing measures which encourage more equal gender distribution in schools.
However, the researchers say that more studies are needed to establish how far the school-level discrepancies are replicated within the classroom, and whether the differences are present in other subject areas.
The findings are published in the journal School Effectiveness and School Improvement.
Source: Taylor & Francis Group