Summary of the conference “Educational differences and the gender of students”

Organised by the Educational Research Institute and the Ministry of Education, this conference brought together experts to discuss various aspects of the learning differences between girls and boys. We invite you to read the summary.

The conference “Educational differences and the gender of students” addresses the need to discuss the educational gaps between girls and boys present in Polish education. These can be clearly seen, for example, in the results of international surveys.

A video of the conference with subtitles will be available shortly.

The conference was opened by Secretary of State of the Ministry of Education and Science, Katarzyna Lubnauer, and Dr. Maciej Jakubowski, Director of the Educational Research Institute (IBE).

An increasingly noticeable phenomenon in countries with universal access to education is the educational gap, in which boys have lower scores and lower competencies in reading, for example. Boys also complete their educational process faster than girls. We want to look for answers as to why this is happening, but also what to do to close this educational gap.

Katarzyna Lubnauer

Dr. Maciej Jakubowski stressed that the Institute will target practical solutions. He pointed out that it is necessary to fight stereotypes, such as the one that girls should not continue their education in technical fields.

The next part of the conference consisted of presentations by a group of invited experts on a wide range of issues relating to the conference theme.

Prof. Francesca Borgonovi, Head of the Skills Analysis Unit at the OECD Skills Centre, presented “On Gender Differences in International Education Research.” She stressed, among other things, that the number of boys among the lowest scorers in the results of international surveys is alarming. She also pointed to the example of Scandinavian countries as a model of good practice when it comes to eliminating educational differences between girls and boys.

Dr. Michal Sitek, Head of the International Research Team at IBE presented on the “Differences in educational achievements and decisions between boys and girls in Poland.” He also drew attention to stereotypes that perpetuate educational inequalities.

The fact that girls are more likely to choose general high schools and humanities profiles leads to the widening of inequalities due to reading comprehension scores, which translates into matriculation results, and may consequently promote increasing inequalities in choosing a field of study.

In his presentation “On gender in the context of examination results and the educational paths of Polish students”, Michał Gulczyński from Bocconi University in Milan attempted to answer the question of the causes of inequality and the fact that boys are much more likely to achieve the lowest results in reading comprehension. As possible reasons, he pointed to a lack of standards and incentives, educational aspirations, too few male teachers, or, for example, the later development of boys, which causes an accumulation of problems.

Dr. Zofia Zasacka of The National Library focused on the topic of reading among students of both sexes in her lecture “Boys as readers – engagement in reading as an opportunity to bridge educational gaps”. She pointed out the importance of the presence of a reading culture at home. According to the speaker, children who come from backgrounds with higher cultural capital have a greater desire to read, regardless of gender. Dr. Zasacka also pointed out that reading has an impact on educational progress, using the example of higher Polish language scores among students who declared that they could find satisfaction in reading. The results of the study show that for boys the greatest positive influence and encouragement to read is the sight of a parent reading a book, while girls are influenced by their environment and peers in addition to their family environment.

Dr. Alicja Zawistowska-Sadowska of the University of Bialystok addressed the topic of girls’ presence as science majors in her talk “The dropout of girls from math and STEM paths.” The speaker pointed out the reasons why more boys than girls choose to study technical subjects. She pointed to a sense of agency and self-confidence, making a choice based on educational performance, and individual preference as the three most important.

Marcin Skarbka of the Good Culture Foundation, in his presentation “Men's space in a cultural and educational institution – recognising the needs of new user groups” asked the question “Why don’t men go into libraries?”. He pointed out how important it is to know the function that reading plays for a man. Surveys show that men are less likely to read for relaxation, with the most important function being informational, hence there are more readers of newspapers than other texts among men.

The conference ended with a panel discussion “How to close gender-related educational gaps”, led by Dr. Tomasz Gajderowicz, Deputy Director of IBE. Each of the panellists taking part in the discussion pointed out possibilities for change and courses of action that could be taken to close gender educational gaps.