Big gender gap in students attitudes and engagement in global and multicultural issues, finds new OECD PISA report

Schools and education systems are failing to give boys and girls across the world the same opportunities to learn and apply their knowledge of global and multicultural issues, according to a new report on the first OECD PISA assessment of the knowledge, skills and attitudes of students to engage with other people and cultures.

Are Students Ready to Thrive in an Interconnected World? focused on students’ knowledge of issues of local and global significance, including public health, economic and environmental issues, as well as their intercultural knowledge, skills and attitudes. Students from 27 countries and economies took the test. Students, teachers, parents and school principals from around 66 countries and economies completed a questionnaire*.

The results reveal a gender gap in access to opportunities to learn global competence as well as in students’ global and intercultural skills and attitudes. On average across OECD countries, boys were more likely than girls to report taking part in activities where they are expected to express and discuss their views, while girls were more likely than boys to report taking part in activities related to intercultural understanding and communication.

Boys, for example, were more likely to learn about the interconnectedness of countries’ economies, look for news on the Internet or watch the news together during class. They were also more likely to be asked by teachers to give their opinion about international news, take part in classroom discussions about world events and analyse global issues with their classmates.

In contrast, girls were more likely than boys to report that they learn how to solve conflicts with their peers in the classroom, learn about different cultures and learn how people from different cultures can have different perspectives on some issues. These gender differences could reflect personal interests and self-efficacy but could also reflect how girls and boys are socialised at home and at school, according to the report.

“Education is key to helping young people navigate today’s increasingly complex and interconnected world,” said Andreas Schleicher, OECD Director for Education and Skills. “The schools and education systems that are most successful in fostering global knowledge, skills and attitudes among young people are those that offer a curriculum that values openness to the world, provide a positive and inclusive learning environment and offer opportunities to relate to people from other cultures.”

The findings reveal the key role teachers play in promoting and integrating intercultural understanding into their classroom practices and lessons. Most teachers reported that they are confident in their ability to teach in multicultural settings. But the lack of adequate professional development opportunities in this field is a major challenge. Few teachers reported having received training on teaching in multicultural or multilingual settings.

More than 90% of students attended schools where principals reported positive multicultural beliefs among their teachers. Yet students who perceive discrimination by their teachers towards immigrants and people from other cultural backgrounds, for example, exhibited similar negative attitudes. This highlights the key role of teachers and school principals in countering or perpetuating discrimination by acting as role models.

The report found a strong link between students learning activities at school and having more positive intercultural attitudes. Also, speaking two or more languages was positively associated with awareness of global issues, interest in learning about other cultures, respect for people from other cultures and positive attitudes towards immigrants.

On average across OECD countries, 50% of students reported learning two or more languages at school, 38% reported learning one foreign language and only 12% reported not learning any foreign language at school. The largest share of students (more than 20%) who reported not learning any foreign language at school were observed in Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia and Scotland. By contrast, in 42 countries, more than 90% of students reported that they learn at least one foreign language at school.

The report is available at https://www.oecd.org/education/pisa-2018-results-volume-vi-d5f68679-en.htm.

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