How the level gap between girls and boys widens from CP

Among the many subjects of the new school year, mathematics is at the top of the table: despite the fact that French students’ results are well below the European average, the discipline suffers from a shortage of teachers. mathematics should be included in secondary school curricula. And all these difficulties are reinforced by the problem of gender inequality.

Indeed, only 30% of girls offer undergraduate mathematics, compared to 54% of boys. Further, they are a significant minority in mathematics-related training (engineering schools, computer science DUTs, etc.), whereas they make up 55% of tertiary entrants. At that time, the ongoing trend in the labor market.

Where does this discrepancy between girls and boys come from when it comes to math? If the issue of innate difference has been denied by scientific consensus, when does difference arise? This debate has recently been enriched by studies specifically from France, which reveal a turning point during the preparatory course (CP) at the age of 6 or 7, regardless of social background.

“Find the moment of precision”

According to the results of a large study published in May by French researchers, although girls and boys have the same performance in mathematics in the middle of kindergarten, the level of boys is higher at the end of CP. British Journal of Developmental Psychology.

Developmental psychologist Jean-Paul Fischer and demographer Xavier Thierry cited assessments of two large groups of children from the 2011 Elfe study, a sample of 18,000 children born in France. followed from many scientific perspectives for twenty years. Experts relying on volunteer teachers observed how students of both sexes coped with exercises adapted to their level. Kindergarten girls have slightly higher scores in math, but there is a shift in CP and boys are clearly superior.

The same study leads to different results for the French: girls who are slightly ahead of boys from kindergarten maintain their advantage in this discipline at the end of CP.

“It is important to highlight this asymmetric phenomenon between mathematics and FrenchJean-Paul Fischer emphasizes. The study allows us to pinpoint the moment when the gap shifts in favor of boys. And we can imagine that this gap will continue and grow throughout schooling. This helps the transition to weaken theories of genetic variation in mathematics. »

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This study confirms the observation already highlighted by neuroscientists and statisticians gathered in 2021 within the framework of the scientific council on national education. Their analysis of national assessments of first-graders made it clear that while girls and boys perform about the same in math when they start elementary school, after five months boys have a big advantage and the gap widens. CE1. Even more striking is that this discrepancy is found everywhere, regardless of the type of school (private or public) or the social background of the students.

How can this discrepancy be explained?

If there are many possible explanations, there are few certainties. “These results show that there are gaps in primary school enrollment– says Thomas Breda (Paris School of Economics), who works on social and gender inequality in the professional orientation of young French people. In particular, the question arises whether it is about the teachers or the teaching methods themselves? » The economist invites us to take a closer look gender bias”, that is, consciously attaching stereotypes to female or male figures, to test whether this affects student outcomes by training teachers to avoid these biases.

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Research has already revealed such biases. Michela Carlana, a researcher from Harvard University (Massachusetts), thus showed in 2019 that girls who are math teachers implicitly associate science with men, whose teachers perform significantly worse than those who are not sensitive to this stereotype.

Another American study conducted by the University of Chicago in 2010 found that girls whose teachers worried about teaching math made less progress over the year than those whose teachers did not worry about the subject. Therefore, the importance of training mathematics teachers from the first years.

In France, the scientific council for national education also suggests looking at compensatory mechanisms that might work in favor of boys in mathematics – starting with the assumption that the teaching body abandons them ” shine” to compensate “The best French girl performances of the same era”.

Also read: The article is reserved for our subscribers Gender inequality: “Legislation is not the answer to making maths more girl-friendly”

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