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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

In Arab world, girls rule in school: Why?

Female students outnumber males two to one at the University of Jordan

Across the Arab world, girls rule in school, writes Amanda Ripley in The Atlantic. In the workplace, women have limited opportunities, she writes. That doesn’t seem to matter in the classroom.

(Jordan’s) girls outperform its boys in just about every subject and at every age level. At the University of Jordan, the country’s largest university, women outnumber men by a ratio of two to one—and earn higher grades in math, engineering, computer-information systems, and a range of other subjects.

In ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia, which just decided to let women drive, a majority of science degrees are earned by women.

Girls are out-performing boys in classrooms across the world, writes Ripley.

In 2015, teenage girls outperformed boys on a sophisticated reading test in 69 countries—every place in which the test was administered. In America, girls are more likely to take Advanced Placement tests, to graduate from high school, and to go to college, and women continue their education over a year longer than men.

However the gender gap is widest in the Middle East, she writes. “The education gap between boys and girls across the region is large and strikingly similar, even among nations with stark distinctions—in oil-rich, wealthy countries like Oman, where boys are virtually guaranteed some sort of government job when they grow up, and in poor ones like Jordan, where they are not.”

Some believe boys have more freedom to hang out with friends, while girls are kept home with little to do but homework.

In addition, boys don’t need to do well in school to get a job. Women are barred from service jobs.

They must either score high on the end-of-school exam (which only half of students typically pass) so that they can get admitted to a university and get a reputable job like a teacher or a doctor—or they must marry right away.

Sex-segregated schools may explain part of the achievement gap, writes Ripley.

In Jordan, boys go to all-male schools, staffed by male teachers, after third grade, while girls are taught by women. A Ministry of Education study found female teachers are more qualified and more committed to the job. After all, they don’t have many choices. For male teachers, it’s a poorly paid, undesirable job.

“The separation of students, teachers, and administrators into single-sex public schools . . ..  seems to create an unintentional ghetto for boys—where less-devoted teachers instruct less-engaged students amid more violence,” writes Ripley. The gender gap in math and science is “small to nonexistent” in Tunisia and Lebanon, the only Arab countries where “co-education is the norm.”

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