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IP/09/1412

Brussels, 5 October 2009

Gender inequalities in education persist

Despite progress in recent years, gender differences and inequalities persist in education in terms of subject preferences and performance, and in cultural aspects of the education and training experience. This is a key message from a new independent expert report on gender and education issued by the European Commission. The authors also point out that gender differences in education are closely interlinked with other factors such as social class, ethnicity and minority status and call on policy-makers to take this into account.

The issues addressed in the report, entitled "Gender and Education (and employment) - lessons from research for policy makers", include the following:

  • How are gender inequalities created or reproduced within and around contemporary schools, in employment and in wider society?

  • Why do boys drop out of school more often than girls?

  • Why do girls and young women not identify with maths, science and technology subjects and related careers?

The Report was d rafted by NESSE , the independent N etwork of E xperts in S ocial S ciences of E ducation & training, and summarises key findings from international research on gender and education and highlights their implications for policy development and implementation. The report reviews evidence and concrete recommendations that can be useful to policy and decision-makers in the field of education and in related fields of public policy.

Key findings

Researchers point out that social class, ethnicity and minority status all contribute to a complex picture from which it is difficult to isolate gender differences and inequalities in educational performance. Consequently, they argue, policies should not treat women and men, girls and boys, as homogenous groups in policy terms.

Reading: The research reveals that reading attitudes and behaviour are determined to a great degree by gender. Evidence suggests that it is boys from working class backgrounds in all ethnic groups and cultures who are the most likely to have literacy difficulties and to leave school early.

Fields of academic study: The report reveals that gender continues to be a factor in certain fields of academic study, with men dominating science, construction and engineering, and women dominating the arts, humanities and care-related disciplines.

Role of parents and peers: The research shows that parents and peers are both powerful players in the gender game; they can and do reinforce gender-stereotypical expectations and behaviour. It also emerged that the attitudes of teachers and teacher educators are crucial in facilitating change.

Academic streaming: The report demonstrates that countries with highly selective academic streaming can be disadvantageous to girls and women in mathematics and science, and to boys in that they may be disproportionately placed in lower streams.

What can be done?

The authors of the report point out that g ender equality does not happen by accident. They suggest that promoting gender equality in education involves promoting equality in the culture and processes of schooling. Evidence shows that a caring, non-hierarchical and respectful school system not only reduces early school leaving for both boys and girls, it also promotes positive attitudes to learning that sustain people educationally in adult life - it encourages lifelong learning.

The research shows that the more equal societies are in economic and social terms, the greater the likelihood there is of having gender equality in education.

The report argues that gender inequality is difficult to understand and to challenge in isolation from other cultural, political, economic and affective injustices. It suggests that gender inequality can most effectively be addressed in a wider equality and social justice context.

Copies of the report will be distributed and discussed at the forthcoming conference on gender and educational attainment organised by the Swedish Presidency in Uppsala in November 2009, to be attended by a large number of national policy makers.

To know more

The full report: " Gender and Education (and employment) - lessons from research for policy makers " (in EN, with summaries in FR and DE).

NESSE: all reports . Printed copies (free of charge) are available on request.

European Commission: Education and training


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