Girls "better than boys" at working together to solve problems

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Anna Brech
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A new global report shows that teenage girls have the edge over their male peers when it comes to collaborative problem-solving.

A new report shows that teen girls far outstrip boys when it comes to working collaboratively to solve a problem; a key demand that they will all face in the professional world.

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) evaluated the performance of 15-year-olds in 52 countries, including Japan, South Korea, the UK and the USA.

This is the first time PISA - run by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) - carried out tests on group problem-solving skills.

The organisation is known for ranking global performance in reading, maths and science among teenagers. It’s now expanding its remit to gauge how well-equipped young people are for real world, too. 

A similar test five years ago looked at students’ individual problem-solving skills. Boys generally performed better in this category, in most countries.

But when working as a group was factored in for the latest round of tests, girls performed better than boys in every country. This gender gap was particularly pronounced in the UK.

Girls around the world are better than boys at working together to solve problems

The PISA research of 125,000 teenagers showed that girls display a more positive attitude towards relationships; they’re interested in others’ opinions and want other people to succeed. This chimes with their ability to better solve problems in groups.

Boys, on the other hand, are more likely to recognise teamwork as a tool for working more effectively.

“In a world that places a growing premium on social skills, education systems need to do much better at fostering those skills systematically across the school curriculum,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. “It takes collaboration across a community to develop better skills for better lives.”

News of the study comes as a leading headteacher claims that women who attended single-sex schools are better equipped to tackle sexual harassment.

Charlotte Avery, head of St Mary’s School in Cambridge and president of the Girls’ Schools Association, believes that students at all-girls schools are more likely to call out sexual misconduct when they experience or witness it. They’re more confident in doing so, she argues, because they haven’t been habituated to it in the way that co-ed students might have been.

“I think that there isn’t any sense of it being normalised, because they don’t see it, because it is simply not there,” Avery tells The Times.

Photos: iStock


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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.