Girls, better than boys: A-level exam data shows who is being left behind

More girls are sitting for their matriculation certificates to gain access to university education, revealing working-class boys to be the most disadvantaged in Malta’s educational system

The educational gender gap in Advanced matriculation exams has continued to increase, with 36% of girls born in 2000 getting MATSEC certification when compared to 23% of boys, and 52% of girls compared to 35% of boys registering for A-level exams.

Females, especially those hailing from the south-east of Malta, are more likely to sit for A-levels than males, and more likely to get the results that take them to university.

A statistical report issued by the MATSEC office shows that 29% of the 4,255 children born in 2000 qualified for the Matriculation Certificate, which makes them eligible to continue their studies in university.

But while only 23% of 18-year-old males gained access to university-level education, 36% of females did likewise.

The overall percentage of matriculating 18-year-olds was similar to 2017, which was the highest since 2004. But the gap between males and females increased from 12 points in 2017 to 13 points in 2018.

Indeed, the data shows that females are considerably more likely (52%) to register for A-levels than boys (35%). “This means that this year more than half of females born 18 years ago sat for Matriculation examinations at Advanced and Intermediate level, further increasing the gap between males and females in this regard,” a MATSEC annual report notes.

The gender imbalance in registration is more pronounced in the southeastern region, which includes localities like Marsaskala, Zejtun and Zurrieq. In this region, nearly two-thirds of candidates in these exams are female.

In 10 localities – Zebbug Gozo (85%), Gharghur (80%), Swatar (79%), Marsaskala (73%), Nadur (71%), Gudja (70%), Siggiewi (70%), Ghaxaq (67%), Kalkara (68%) and Kirkop (68%) – females accounted for more than two-thirds of candidates.

Interestingly gender parity was only achieved in a few localities: Balzan, Swieqi, Iklin, Rabat, Xaghra, Santa Lucija and Ibragg. This suggests that boys tend to account for a higher percentage of registrations in affluent middle-class localities and in some rural and southern localities. In fact, boys account for 46% of the candidates hailing from the Western district, which includes Attard, Balzan, Lija, Iklin, Rabat and Dingli.

In Gozo, where boys accounted for the majority of registrations in Victoria, girls accounted for the majority of candidates in most other villages like Nadur, Zebbug, Xewkija and Ghajnsielem.

Boys also prevailed in localities where very few candidates registered for these exams. All three candidates from Senglea, and three out of four candidates from Birgu, were male. This suggests that in these areas educational aspirations are low in both sexes.

The statistics suggest that social class may be a major factor in determining educational outcomes with females being more aspirational than boys in southeastern working-class localities, while boys are at the same level of girls in more affluent localities. This confirms trends in other studies showing working-class boys as the most disadvantaged category in the Maltese educational system.

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