Gender differences in literacy achievement mean that there are achievement gaps between boys and girls in literacy. The children of various age groups are tested in the various academic literary fields such as reading, writing, mathematics and science and the results are evaluated to find whether the girls or boys perform better and the reasons that could be attributed for this difference.
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Gender differences in literacy achievement were tested using a standardised programme called the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and found that girls outperformed boys in literacy in every country in which the study was conducted (OECD, 2001, 2002). Moreover, this study also found that the gender gap in mathematics and science, in which boys have usually out-performed girls, was narrowing to a significant extent. The better performance of the girls in reading is a record standing for the last forty years.
There are many views on the reasons for the gender differences in literacy achievement. Many educationists are of the opinion that the steady performance of girls in literacy achievement can be attributed to their biological as well as cognitive factors. They observe that the biological development of girls takes place at a faster rate than that of boys. Similarly, the cognitive factors also develop earlier in the girls. As these two factors are important for good reading skills, girls naturally outdo boys of the same age group in such tests (Halpern, 2006).
Moreover, it is widely observed that language learning ability and vocabulary enhancement is more efficient in girls than in boys of the same age group. In fact, it was demonstrated by Huttenlocher, Height, Bryk, Seltzer and Lyons in 1991 that the vocabulary difference between sixteen month-old girls and boys is about 13 words more on the girls’ side and this gap keeps increasing steadily until at two years of age, there is a one hundred and fifteen word gap. Their study also brought out the surprising fact that the amount of words spoken by the mothers to their children.
There were also other gender differences in literacy achievement noticed at the other end of the spectrum. It was observed that boys tend to have more problems with reading disabilities such as dyslexia. Studies have shown that boys are two times more prone to dyslexia than girls, and the same difference is seen in the number of boys referred to educational psychologists and for remedial reading classes.
Working on gender differences in literacy achievement, academic researchers, such as Halpern (2006) demonstrate that boys outperform girls in skills such as verbal analogies, mapping verbal relationships in working memory and in tasks that are related to transformations in Visio-spatial memory. At the same time, girls are faster in retrieving phonological, semantic, and episodic information from their long-term memory, other tasks related to memory and more resilient writing skills.
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