Equal education opportunities benefit both girls and boys and the broader society. While girls continue to face severe disadvantages and inequalities in education, the report shows that boys face similar and different challenges, that they also need support. Supporting boys does not mean that girls lose out and vice versa.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development makes the promise to leave no one behind. While improving educational opportunities for girls globally continues to be of paramount importance to achieve gender equality in and through education, this focus on achieving gender parity and equality must not ignore boys.
Ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all – SDG 4 – and achieving gender equality and empoweringall women and girls – SDG 5 – requires gender-transformative action.
To leave no child behind, UNESCO has produced the first global report of this scope on boys' educational disengagement and disadvantage using qualitative and quantitative data from over 140 countries.
This report aims
- to provide an overview of the global situation on boys’ disengagement from and disadvantage in education.
- to identify factors that influence boys' educational participation, progress and learning outcomes.
- to analyse responses from governments and partners and examine policies and programmes.
- to make recommendations on how to re-engage boys in education and reduce disadvantage.
The global situation of educational underachievement and disadvantage of boys in education
While girls continue to be less likely to be enrolled in school worldwide, in many countries boys are at greater risk than girls of repeating grades, failing to complete different education levels and having poorer learning outcomes in school. Where previously boys’ disadvantage seemed most notable in high- or upper-middle-income contexts at the beginning of the millennium, this has shifted and now includes several low- and lower-middle income countries. Secondary education is where boys’ disadvantage is most prevalent.
There have been justified fears that the COVID-19 pandemic could lead to an increase in school dropouts. However, there will not be a clear picture of the impact of COVID-19 on school enrolment figures before the end of 2022.
Factors influencing boys' participation, progress and learning outcomes
In addition to social, cultural, personal and institutional factors, poverty and the need to work strongly influence boys' academic performance. Gender norms and expectations affect motivation and willingness to learn.
Certain school practices such as streaming and gender based segregation, strict discipline up to physical punishment, and other forms of school-based gender-specific violence negatively affect performance at school. Fear and experiences of violence lead to increased absenteeism from school and can contribute to dropping out. Boys are more likely than girls to be physically bullied and are often targeted because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.
Conflict and forced migration exacerbate challenges in accessing and completing education. Language barriers, mobility and discrimination contribute to educational exclusion. Prolonged school closures and the longer-term impact of COVID-19 on learning loss and school dropout are likely to exacerbate existing gender inequalities unless steps are taken to address the learning needs of all.
Policies to address disengagement and disadvantage of boys in education include
- reducing school costs
- improving school infrastructure
- improving accessibility and quality of pre-primary education
- providing measures and non-formal education to support the return to education.
- Avoiding streaming and segregation
- improving teacher quality education, curriculum and pedagogy
- banning corporal punishment and
- tackling gender-based violence.