Boys' Underachievement in Education
A Review of the Literature with a Focus on Reading in the Early Years
Differences attributable to gender in education and other sectors constitute a well-known and well-explored subject. However, in education, the focus tends to be on girls’ disadvantages in terms of enrollment and retention, as compared with boys. This trend of gender disparity against girls’ educational attainment persists in many low- and lower-middle-income countries, although signs of change are clearly visible in many cases. A perusal of statistics relating to enrollment rates at primary and secondary levels in various regions reveals that girls are catching up in both access and achievement. Although as of this writing, the gender gap that disadvantages girls continues in some countries in South Asia and West Africa, the size of the gap has declined over the years.
On the other hand, this gap has either ceased to exist or has turned in favor of girls at the primary level in some other countries, such as India, Bangladesh, Kenya, Tanzania, and Zambia. This new phenomenon of gender disparity in education to the detriment of boys, or in favor of girls, especially at the secondary level, started emerging in several Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and other high or high-medium income countries from the Caribbean, Pacific, and East Asia in the 1980s and early 1990s (Jha & Kelleher, 2006). As a result, boys’ underachievement in education—referring to boys’ lower levels of educational participation and educational performance compared with girls—is now increasingly the focus of attention. While participation refers to enrollment and completion at key milestones, performance refers to learning outcomes and specific level of skills attained or knowledge gained.