The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), established in 1961 and headquartered in Paris, surveyed gender differences in the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) in 64 countries, done every three years on 15-year-olds. See “The ABC of Gender Equality in Education: Aptitude, Behaviour, Confidence” (paywall), subtitled “Tackling underperformance among boys.” Boys are not doing as well as girls in today’s schools. But why?

This chapter examines gender differences in the activities in which boys and girls engage outside of school, in their ability to regulate their behaviour and emotions, in engagement with school and attitudes towards learning, and in the marks boys and girls receive in school. All of these ultimately have an impact on students’ futures, both in school and beyond.

Briefly, the major findings will not surprise anyone. You’d have to buy the report, but here are some key summations from the Irish Times:

– Playing occasional video games can help to boost students’ performance in maths. But playing every single day is about as useful for school performance as a bong pipe.

– Solo players experienced more benefits than those who engaged in “collaborative online gaming.” Again, no surprise. Solo players are probably “working out” intellectually; many of the others may just be escaping into a fantasy world. Note: There is no necessary relationship between the use of electronic media and understanding of its workings (the science part). Only the latter pays off.

– “In other findings, the report found lower levels of confidence among girls in doing maths, blaming this on negative messages picked up by parents and teachers.” Of course. When in doubt, politically correct researchers blame parents and teachers, not nature. So, we learn:

– Teachers, they found, consistently gave girls better marks in math than boys, even when girls turned in the same performance in the OECD PISA test. “The evidence suggests this may be because girls are more attentive in class and behave better and are marked up as a result.” It couldn’t have anything to do with political correctness, of course, despite the constant din to get more girls to win the Nobel for Physics or the Fields Medal.

– It gets better: “This gender difference in the ability to think like a scientist may be related to students’ self-confidence. When students are more self-confident, they give themselves the freedom to fail, to engage in the trial-and-error processes that are fundamental to acquiring knowledge in mathematics and science.” This is comic because a girl is likely to have more self-confidence where she is more likely to succeed. And who doesn’t?

– Boys were much more motivated than girls by “extrinsic rewards.” Translated: He wants stuff he can win. Strut around with.

Having spent decades in the educational publishing industry, I would describe it all as

Political correctness howls at the moon.

Wonders, decades later, why moon never howls back.

First, the approach takes for granted that, with enough intervention, basic sex differences can be changed. That is unlikely.

In general, there is considerable (politically incorrect) evidence that men’s and women’s brains develop differently. Education bureaucrats can throw reports, laws, money, and preferential grading and hiring at that fact, but can’t change it.

One needn’t do a great deal of research to discover that boys are more competitive and girls are more relational. Indeed, the cited poor performance of boys in education in recent decades is likely due to a simple fact that someone kindly summed up for me in six words: Feels good has replaced works well.

Girls can adapt more easily to “Everybody is right,” “Mustn’t press the point,” and “All shall have prizes” than boys.

Not because they are dumb. But because they can so often meet their own goals better by maintaining relationships than by engaging in direct competition. No wonder we are told that they get better marks because they are more co-operative! The critical question should be, what does that skew do for the overall system over time?

For example, consider “This gender difference in the ability to think like a scientist may be related to students’ self-confidence.” But most guys who invented a new idea or product of use in the world have had to deal with an unending stream of naysayers and doomsayers (and sometimes censors, persecutors, and thugs).

Of course, so did women who achieved similar things! But there have always been proportionately fewer women in that group.

I suspect the main reason is that in the farflung reaches of new ideas and technologies, the ability to survive without community emotional support may be critical. And that it is, for better or worse, more often found among men than women.

At all events, time in this universe flows one way forward only. So the time spent on trying to reorganize fundamental facts about the nature of male and female cannot, unfortunately, be recovered and used wisely instead.

I wonder how many more reports of this type we will be subjected to in the years ahead.

Denyse O’Leary is a Canadian journalist, author, and blogger.

Denyse O’Leary is an author, journalist, and blogger who has mainly written popular science and social science. Fellow Canadian Marshall McLuhan’s description of electronic media as a global village...