Bridging the gender gap: what Norway can learn from other countries

By Francesca Borgonovi and Soumaya Maghnouj
Directorate for Education and Skills

Drop-out rates among boys are high across many OECD countries, but the phenomenon is particularly pronounced in Norway. To a large extent, this is due to Norway’s success in providing opportunities for girls to succeed in school. Considering the progress that Norway has made in closing the gender gap for girls, it should be able to do so for boys, as well. Yet male students continue to underachieve, relative to their female counterparts, and the gap has only widened in recent years.

Our new report, The Gender Gap in Educational Outcomes in Norway, offers some possible explanations for this persistent gap, and outlines potential strategies that Norway and other countries could use to mitigate gender disparities. The report, published today, uses an international comparison analysis to paint a comprehensive portrait of academic gender disparities in Norway and select OECD countries, accounting for gender gaps in achievement, attainment, attitudes, beliefs and behaviours.

Most of the policies and practices described in our report comes from three peer-countries that were identified as particularly relevant to Norway: Finland, the Netherlands and the United States. These countries have all implemented a range of policies and programmes to address boys’ underachievement through various channels. Some initiatives, such as the Becoming a Man programme in the United States, target the gap directly, through additional tutoring and mentoring of boys at risk of dropping-out; others, such as the three-tiered student support-model in Finland and the “Drive to Reduce Drop-Out Rates” campaign in the Netherlands, tackle factors that are associated with boys’ underachievement, including infrequent reading habits,higher truancy rates and disengagement from school.

Norway has an opportunity to lead the way in improving the academic achievement of girls and boys.

Other countries have implemented policies to combat these potential causes, as well, including some that could support Norway’s efforts to reduce drop-out rates among boys. The Premier League Reading Stars in England, for example, is a reading intervention that targets students between the ages of 8 and 13. The intervention is administered by teachers or school librarians, and includes 10 themed literacy lessons where football stars talk about their love for reading. Sweden’s Read to me, Daddy initiative targets working fathers who belong to local trade unions that encourage dads to read to their children. And in Iceland, a specially-designed Risk Detector platform  helps school counsellors to accurately identify students who are at risk of dropping out before completing upper secondary education. Norway could draw upon the lessons learned from these programs to guide and bolster its own initiatives to narrow the gender gap in achievement.

Norway today has all of the tools it needs to empower both boys and girls to reach their full potential in education. The country recently created a National Commission on Gender Equality in Education to address these issues, and we hope that our report will help advance its efforts even further.  As it continues to work toward achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal on inclusive and equitable education, Norway has an opportunity to lead the way in improving the academic achievement of girls and boys, and promoting prosperity for years to come.

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