x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Teenage girls outperform boys in UAE schools

The results come from a 2012 assessment in which Pisa tested 510,000 pupils between the ages of 15 and 16 from 65 countries in the subjects of reading, science, mathematics and problem-solving.

Female students Shruthi James, left, and Sivakami Slevi pose for a portrait during a conference at Zayed University. A study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development shows teenage girls are ahead of their male counterparts in school. Razan Alzayani / The National
Female students Shruthi James, left, and Sivakami Slevi pose for a portrait during a conference at Zayed University. A study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development shows teenage girls are ahead of their male counterparts in school. Razan Alzayani / The National

Teenage girls in the UAE continue to outperform boys in reading, science, mathematics and problem-solving, the results of an international survey show.

Both groups made significant gains in these subjects compared with results from 2009, but still rank below the international average.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Programme for International Student Assessment, or Pisa, last year tested 510,000 pupils aged between 15 and 16 from 65 countries in reading, science, mathematics and problem-solving.

In the UAE, 11,500 pupils from 375 public and private schools took part. About half of the participants were Emiratis.

Although UAE pupils fell short of the OECD average for each discipline, Dr Abdulla Al Karam, director general of the Knowledge and Human Development Authority in Dubai, said the results were promising as they showed continued progress.

“Even though the sample size was even more, the results have gone up,” Dr Al Karam said. “There have been improvements from the previous cycle to now.

“What we focus on is the improvement and it has to be gradual for it to be sustainable.”

The results showed UAE pupils rank 48th in maths, with a mean average of 434, an improvement of 14 points on 2009.

They ranked 44th in reading literacy, with an average of 442, an increase of 11 points; and 46th in science, with an average of 448, which is 10 points up.

Of the 44 countries that took part in problem-solving, which was introduced last year, the UAE was 40th with a median average of 411.

The testing also showed UAE girls were more skilled than boys in the tested subjects.

In reading, the girls scored 56 points higher than boys, 28 points higher in science and 26 points higher in problem solving.

The differences were less pronounced in maths, where four points separated them.

Jonathan Hughes-D’Aeth, headmaster of Repton School in Dubai, said he was not surprised by the results.

“Obviously, engaging adolescent boys is important to do – it’s vital to do – but it’s not a surprise that the figures show that girls do better than boys,” he said.

“The girls start maturing quite earlier. The frontal lobe of the boy develops at a different rate than the frontal lobe of the girl.

“So, a girl is maturing and fully grown up and sorted by the age of 22. Boys start to grow up at the age of 22.”

Dr Al Karam said the test results help measure the effectiveness of education initiatives.

“The improvements we see in the Pisa results go alongside the improvements we see in the inspection results,” he said, referring to the KHDA’s annual school inspections.

“Over a period of time when you start to see all of these projects, how do you judge? What is your yardstick?

“It’s a good international test to actually be able to judge your effort. Your effort in the last four, five years are yielding these results, and that’s very important for us to realise that.”

Shanghai, China ranked the highest in maths, reading and science with a score of 613, 570 and 580, respectively.

Peru placed last with 368 in maths, 384 in reading and 373 in science.

The average score for those subjects among the OECD countries were 494, 496 and 501.

rpennington@thenational.ae