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  • By Alexi Zotomayor

When boys need more attention in classroom

Study underscores the need to better approach education through gender perspective in Pacific islands

More girls than boys performed at higher levels of proficiency in literacy and numeracy skills assessment, according to the 2018 Pacific Islands Literacy & Numeracy Assessment (PILNA).

The Noumea-headquartered Pacific Community (SPC) administers PILNA in 15 participating island states in the Pacific. PILNA is a learning assessment program designed to measure literacy and numeracy skills of students who have completed four and six years of primary education.

For the 2018 assessment, a total of 39,946 students in Year 4 and Year 6 participated in the numeracy assessment from 15 Pacific countries including Cook Islands, Fiji, FSM, Kiribati, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

“Across the region, girls significantly outperformed boys in both literacy and numeracy,” states the report released by SPC in August.

Dr. Colin Tukuitonga, director general of SPC, also recognized this significant divide between the girls’ and boys’ performances in three cycles of PILNA. He recommended, “A deeper dive into the data may give us a better insight into what is causing the discrepancy and perhaps provide some clues about how we can better approach education through a gender perspective.”

In both Year 4 and Year 6, girls have shown better numeracy skills.


Despite the promising scores, PILNA said students would need to work on their critical thinking and problem solving issues. The report cited their struggle with questions that called for critical thinking and interpretation.


Out of the 9,472 girls in Year 4 that took the test in the 2018 cycle, 86 percent performed better than the expected minimum proficiency compared to 80 percent of 9,776 boys. Proficiency level 3 is the minimum benchmark indicator.

There were also fewer girls than boys who were unable to cross this threshold: 13.51 percent vs 19.91 percent. In the upper end of the scale, 23 percent of girls performed in the Proficiency levels 7 and 8, compared to boys’ 19.8 percent.

Further, the report noted that girls performed better in operations while boys were better at measurement and geometry.

PILNA’s literacy domain assesses reading and writing skills and found that “girls demonstrated higher levels of literacy achievement than boys, on average, across the region in 2018.” The report said that girls had outperformed the boys in both reading and writing strands of the literacy domain underscoring the significant difference in mean performance.

“In the writing strand, Year 4 girls received scaled scores on average 29 points higher than that of boys and, in the reading strand, Year 4 girls received scaled scores on average 24 points higher than that of boys,” according to PILNA 2018.

The same results were shown by Year 6 students as girls scored 35 points higher than the boys in the writing strand. In reading, girls outperformed boys by 23 points.

A greater proportion of students had reached higher proficiency levels over three cycles of PILNA.

And even though there were students who had difficulty meeting the minimum proficiency in both literacy and numeracy, there has been a decreasing trend since 2012.

As encouraging as it was, the PILNA 2018 report, however, underscored that efforts could be channeled to addressing the needs of those who failed to meet the minimum proficiency. It stated that 47 percent of Year 4 students and 37 percent of Year 6 students did not meet the threshold. In numeracy, 17 percent of students in both Years 4-6 underperformed and scored below the minimum proficiency level.


Despite the promising scores, PILNA said students would need to work on their critical thinking and problem-solving issues. The report cited their struggle with questions that called for critical thinking and interpretation.

SPC encourages the island states to craft better educational policies based on the data gathered by PILNA. “Good data is the roadmap to good policy and the Pacific Island Literacy and Numeracy Assessment is a perfect example of how an investment in data can lead to meaningful change for the Pacific,” Tukuitonga said.

In 2018, PILNA’s numeracy content was expanded to include measurement, geometry, data and probability items that were left out in prior iterations of the program. The report said that this had enabled wider and broader range of questions covering different skill areas compared to that of 2012 and 2015.

As well, scores for Year 4 and Year 6, that were previously combined, were separated into two variables allowing for a deeper analysis of the details.

It was also decided to split Level 8 of the numeracy scale into 8a and 8b. This gave a better description of what the students know and can do at each of the levels.

In 2018, the highest mean performance of Year 4 students was in geometry and measurement and their lowest mean performance was in data and chance. PILNA, however, stated that there were only a small number of items measuring data and chance.

The study also found a significant “positive correlation between reading and numeracy word problems in Year 4 level.” PILNA recommended that teachers, in teaching math, should also teach the language of math and numeracy “as they go hand in hand.”


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