Girls now outperform boys in math (UNESCO report)

In mathematics, gender inequalities in favor of children in the first grades are gradually disappearing, according to a new publication in UNESCO’s Global Education Monitoring Report. This report invites us to think more about the inequalities between girls and boys and the obstacles that prevent girls from realizing their potential.

Deepen the debate on who is still being left behind, UNESCO’s annual report on gender equality, analyzes data from 120 countries in primary and secondary education to draw a global picture. The results show that boys perform better than girls in math during their early years, but that these gender inequalities disappear later.

This research confirms that gender inequalities in learning have been reduced, even in the poorest countries. And in some countries, the gap has now reversed. For example, in fourth grade, the gap in math is 7 percentage points in Malaysia, 3 points in Cambodia, 1.7 points in Congo and 1.4 points in the Philippines in favor of girls.

However, prejudices and stereotypes are always likely to affect learning outcomes. Although girls are catching up in mathematics in primary and upper secondary education, boys are much more often overrepresented among the top performers in mathematics in all countries.

In middle- and high-income countries, girls perform significantly better in science at secondary school. Despite this advantage, fewer girls choose a career in science, indicating that gender bias may still be an obstacle to pursuing studies in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Girls outnumber boys in reading

If girls do well in math and science, they do even better in reading. Girls are more likely than boys to achieve the minimum level of proficiency in reading. The widest gap is found in primary education in Saudi Arabia, where 77% of girls in CM1 but only 51% of boys reach the minimum level of proficiency in reading.

In Thailand, girls outperform boys in reading by 18 percentage points, in the Dominican Republic by 11 points and in Morocco by 10 points. Even in countries where girls and boys have the same level of reading in the first grades, such as Lithuania or Norway, for example, the gap in favor of girls is around 15 percentage points at the age of 15.

“Girls are showing how successful they can be in school when they have access to education. But many, and especially the most disadvantaged, do not have the slightest chance of receiving an education. We need not fear this potential. We need to support it and make sure it develops. For example, it is heartbreaking to see that most girls in Afghanistan do not have the opportunity to reveal their talents to the world, ”says Malala Yousafzai, co-founder of the Malala Fund.

“More data is needed, but recent publications have already helped paint a near-global picture of gender inequalities in learning outcomes just before the pandemic. Girls outperform boys in reading and science and are catching up in math. D ‘ on the other hand, they are much less likely to be among the best performers in mathematics, due to persistent prejudices and stereotypes. We must ensure gender equality in learning and ensure that each student realizes their potential, “says Manos Antoninis, Director of the UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report.

Note to editors

Researchers used studies from the Latin American Laboratory for Education Quality Assessment (LLECE), the CONFEMEN Education Systems Analysis Program. . (PASEC) and surveys of Southeast Asian Primary Learning Metrics (SEA-PLM) and Trends in the International Study of Mathematics and Science (TIMSS).

Most of this data has been published in the past 18 months, but refers to the situation just before the pandemic. Learning outcomes are known to have been severely affected in countries that have closed schools for long periods of time and have been unable to provide distance learning opportunities for the majority of students. Comparable learning assessments reflecting the post-COVID situation will only start publishing in a year’s time and, even then, mainly for relatively wealthy countries that have ensured continuity of learning. It will take some time before there is a complete global picture of the long-term impact of the pandemic, including its impact on gender inequalities.


Kate Redman, UNESCO Paris. Tel: Email: +33 671786234

Gina Dafalia, UNESCO. Tel: +447375318760,

Leave a Comment