Girls beat boys at group problem-solving: new report

A new global education survey has found that girls are better than boys at working together to solve problems. In each one of the 52 countries that participated in the test, girls outperformed boys.

Girls beat boys at group problem solving: new survey results
Survey results published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) have revealed the differences between how students collaborate in problem-solving tasks.Some 125,000 15-year-olds in 52 countries took part in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) Collaborative Problem Solving test. The results provided an insight into students’ attitudes towards collaboration and the influence of factors such as gender, hobbies and social background.

The importance of fostering social skills in the school curriculum  

“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.“Parents and society at large must play their part too. It takes collaboration across a community to develop better skills for better lives.”
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Strong reading and maths skills lead to better group problem-solving

Students with stronger reading or maths skills tended to be better at collaborative problem-solving because managing and interpreting information, and the ability to reason, are critical to solving problems.This result correlated with the countries that achieved the highest maths results in PISA’s three-yearly student performance tests: Japan, Korea, Singapore, Estonia, Finland and Canada also came out top in the collaborative problem-solving test.However, students in Australia, Japan, Korea, New Zealand and the United States performed better in collaborative problem-solving than would be expected based on their scores in science, reading and maths. And conversely, students in the four Chinese provinces that took part in PISA (Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu and Guangdong) did less well compared to their results in maths and science. On average across the 52 countries, 28 per cent of students were able to solve only straightforward collaborative problems, if any at all.
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Girls did better than boys in every country and economy that took the test, by the equivalent of half a year’s schooling on average (29 points). Girls were 1.6 times more likely than boys to be top performers in collaborative problem-solving, while boys were 1.6 times more likely than girls to be low achievers. This is in sharp contrast to the findings of the 2012 individual problem solving test, which found that boys performed better than girls.

Diversity in the classroom improves collaboration skills

The test revealed no significant difference in the performance of advantaged or disadvantaged students, or between immigrant and non-immigrant students. But the survey did find that exposure to diversity in the classroom appeared to lead to better collaboration skills. For example, in some countries students without an immigrant background performed better in the collaboration-specific aspects of the test if they attended schools with a larger proportion of immigrant students.Students who played team sports appeared to have a more positive attitude towards collaboration whilst students who played video games scored slightly lower in collaborative problem-solving. However, students who spent time on social networks outside of school scored slightly higher than other students.

How can schools improve collaborative problem-solving? 

These results have shown that fostering positive relationships at school can benefit students’ collaborative problem-solving skills. Schools should consider organising more social activities to encourage this, as well as providing teacher training on classroom management and addressing the problem of bullying.The PISA 2015 Results (Volume V) Collaborative Problem Solving, together with country analysis, summaries and data, is available here
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