Girls slightly outperform boys in English proficiency, says research
Are girls more proficient in the English language than boys? This is a question researchers from Cambridge English Language Assessment have attempted to answer by looking at thousands of test results from teenagers taking IELTS exams between January 2014 and January 2015.
Researchers looked at 16-19 year old test takers in 35 countries sitting the exam for academic or immigration motives and found that in some countries, girls do indeed outperform boys in English language proficiency by a very small margin.
Agnieszka Walczak, from Cambridge English Language Assessment, presented figures from the research at Cambridge Assessment’s Conference on Gender Differences in Education last month, explaining that researchers were interested in seeing if similar gender gaps that exist in PISA results or in GCSEs in the UK also exist in IELTS scores.
“While girls do outperform boys slightly, particularly in speaking and writing, the difference is negligible,” Walczak said, pointing out that the magnitude of difference in average overall scores was only as big as half a band or a quarter of a band.
The study looked at overall test scores as well as those for the individual skill sets: reading, listening, writing and speaking.
Researchers found that across skills the results are mixed but in overall test results girls displayed stronger aggregate scores.
In the result band 8 (on a scale of 10), 60% of test takers were female while 40% were male. Meanwhile results from tests in lower bands, 2 for example, were almost always from male candidates.
Country breakdowns, reveal a different story and could account for the global pattern of girls performing better.
“In China, Pakistan and Bangladesh girls perform better so what looks like a global trend, is just dominated by results from these three countries,” said Walczak.
Meanwhile in Brazil, Lithuania, Romania, Bulgaria, Nepal, Japan and the UAE boys performed better.
“Country level analysis shows us there’s no consistent pattern in performance across gender, girls perform better in certain countries, but not in others,” explained Walczak.
“What ultimately matters is the ability to use English for communication in society. In other words it is now a basic skill that goes beyond school-based learning and this impacts how learners go about learning.”
Ardeshir Geranpayeh, another researcher at Cambridge English, argued that the difference in exam results can be explained by the social nature of language learning and cultural differences on a country level.
“Second language learning is not just about knowledge of grammar, language as we know is a social phenomena,” he said.
“You need to engage better in communication, you need extra activities beyond the classroom, you need interaction between learners. That’s where there’s the belief that girls tend to be better in communication, social interaction and hence progress more quickly in language learning.”
He pointed out that the countries where exam results differ more greatly between the genders – China, Bangladesh and Pakistan – are “societies with known gender equity issues”.
“It’s possible the women who were put for these exams to sit were put forward because they were ready; they didn’t put everyone there,” he said, adding: “But when it came to male candidates, because it’s the norm of the society that those male candidates were preferred, it was their right to take the test even though they weren’t ready.”
These socio-cultural factors could also explain the dominance of male test takers’ results in the lower bands of exam results, he said.
Researchers concluded that while in many other areas of education, girls significantly outperform boys in most countries, English proficiency is a unique case where the differences are much less clear cut and more nuanced.
“We need to understand the cultural and behavioural changes within the candidature, and performance in society at large,” said Geranpayeh.
“What needs to be done is more research and have more resources to understand all the other culture issues that impact how candidates do on the test.”
source: pie news