Conseil supérieur de l'éducation

The Conseil supérieur de l’éducation proposes that the Minister of Education and the educational community adopt a series of measures constituting an overall approach to tackle the gap in academic success between boys and girls at both the elementary and secondary levels.

In launching the brief on improving boys’ and girls’ academic achievement on October 13 at St. Dorothy Elementary School in Montréal, Conseil President, Céline Saint-Pierre, warned the population against simplistic explanations and one-dimensional solutions. ² Just as a society’s culture cannot be changed by order-in-council, we must not expect this action plan to produce all the desired effects immediately. However, the problem must be tackled today since the differing academic success rates of boys and girls may have far-reaching repercussions for the future of Québec society² , she stated.

The 100-page brief seeks to provide a better understanding of the effect of gender as a variable in academic success. It puts forward five policy guidelines and several short-, medium- and long-term measures to support boys and girls in their progress in school.



1. Recognize the impact of social sex roles and socialization

Because boys and girls have the same intellectual potential, the Conseil supérieur de l’éducation explains the origin of difference in school success of boys and girls as a series of social forces that affect children differently depending on their biological sex. These socialization forces are exercised by both the adult world and by other children in the form of social sex role expectations. These factors, which are particularly important between ages four and eleven, explain why the styles of interaction and interests of boys and girls differ.

Boys and girls do not have the same attitudes toward school. Beginning at the elementary level, girls are proportionally more interested in school than boys and are more likely to meet its expectations. Even if teachers think they are neutral, they also have an impact on the socialization process. The Conseil recommends that school personnel be trained to recognize the impact of social sex roles and socialization and that parents and students also be made aware of the issue.

2. Take into account students’ difficulties in learning the language of instruction

Overall, there is no substantial difference between boys’ and girls’ achievement in the various school subjects, with the exception of reading and writing, in which girls do significantly better than boys. Results on writing examinations administered in the sixth year of elementary school in Québec in 1995 show that 57% of girls attained adequate or higher levels, compared with 38% of boys. Conversely, 21% of girls and 33% of boys showed inadequate writing skills. This gap continued at the secondary level.

The Conseil recommends that the Minister of Education take advantage of the current curriculum renewal to desexualize representations of reading and writing, which are associated with feminine characteristics. It urges schools to experiment with methods to help students to learn to read and write, notably by using new information technologies and through extracurricular activities. It also wishes to ensure that boys and girls, especially those from disadvantaged areas, have access to high-quality school libraries.

3. Take into account differential rates of development among students

Proportionally more boys than girls experience academic delay. In 1997-1998, 25.3% of boys had repeated a grade by the end of elementary school, compared to 17.3% of girls. This gap widens by the end of secondary school, where 40% of boys experience academic delay, compared to 26.7% of girls. Among students identified as having learning or adjustment difficulties, there were two boys for every girl. In particular, the figures for behavioural difficulties show a ratio of 5.5 boys for every girl at the elementary level and 4.2 boys for every girl at the secondary level.

In this regard, the Conseil supérieur de l’éducation recommends that the current frame of reference, based on comparing the academic results of students of the same age, be reviewed. It also encourages schools to exercise caution in making students repeat a grade, suggesting pedagogical support measures as alternatives to repeating grades. In the first cycle of secondary school, the Conseil hopes that new teaching practices will enable schools to offer students with learning or adjustment difficulties other options than the individualized paths for learning.

4. Take into account students’ cognitive styles

Since students have different ways of storing and using information to solve problems, the Conseil recommends that educational action take into account the diversity of students’ cognitive styles in order to help all students improve their academic achievement.

5. Take into account adolescents’ need to give meaning to their studies

In 1997-1998, 41.3% of boys left secondary school without a diploma, compared to 26.0% of girls. That same year, the probability of never obtaining a secondary school diploma was 26% for a man as compared to 12% for a woman.

Given that secondary school coincides with the period in their lives when students must make decisions about their future, the Conseil would like to see schools become increasingly ² guidance-oriented² . It recommends that students be given the information they need on different occupations, employment prospects, working conditions and skill requirements. It urges schools to better emphasize the usefulness of what students learn in everyday life.

Panorama • Volume 4, Number 3 • November 1999

Document complet - in French (PDF)


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