Girls are much better than boys at working together to solve problems, according to a new study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

The forum of democratic nations came to its conclusion after testing 125,000 15-year-olds in 52 regions around the world -- and, as noted in the study's findings, girls did not perform just slightly better, but, rather, dramatically better: In every single region in which the tests were run, girls scored higher than boys, averaging scores that reflected performance expected after about a half-year more of schooling than their male counterparts (despite having, in actuality, the same levels of education). Furthermore, across OECD countries, girls were found to be 1.6 times more likely than boys to be top performers in collaborative problem solving, while boys were found to be 1.6 times more likely than girls to be low achievers.

The OECD study -- believed to be the first of its kind -- examined how well students work together as a group, their attitudes toward collaboration, and the influence of factors such as gender, afterschool activities, and social backgrounds.

Interestingly, the test revealed no significant difference between the performance of rich and poor students, or between immigrant and nonimmigrant students. But students' exposure to various forms of diversity did seem to improve collaboration skills. For example, in some countries, students without an immigrant background performed better in the collaboration-specific aspects of the test when they attended schools with a larger proportion of immigrant students than when they attended educational facilities with more homogeneous nonimmigrant populations.

As one would expect, students who had stronger reading and math skills were found, generally speaking, to be better at collaborative problem-solving than their less gifted peers. Students from top-performing countries in those areas of education -- for example, Japan, Korea, Singapore, Estonia, Finland, and Canada -- also performed higher than average on the collaborative problem-solving test.

Interestingly, however, students in the United States and several other nations performed better in collaborative problem-solving than one might expect given the students' earlier scores in science, reading, and mathematics; students in the Chinese provinces who took part in the test (Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu, and Guangdong), on the other hand, performed worse than would be expected given their prior results.

The differences between boys and girls were largest in Australia, Finland, Latvia, New Zealand, and Sweden, where the girls averaged a lead over boys equivalent to more than eight months of schooling. The gap was narrowest -- at about two months' difference -- in Colombia, Costa Rica, and Peru.

Considering how many projects in the world of science and technology involve collaborative problem-solving, this study should provide further reason to encourage girls to pursue STEM educations, and, hopefully, also serve as a powerful message to those who continue to preach sexist ideas about the lack of suitability of women for technical jobs.

Published on: Dec 11, 2017