Gender differences in mathematics, science and language achievement of Hong Kong students

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This research studies the gender differences in the participation and performance in the Hong Kong Certificate Education Examination and the Hong Kong Advanced Level Examination, and compares them with findings in western countries. It studies the magnitude of the overall gender differences; the change in gender differences over age and generation; and compares the gender differences in high-ability groups with that in the population. The data are extracted from the annual reports of the above two public examinations (HKCEE, 1978-1996' HKAEE, 1980-1996). It studies the gender difference in English and Chinese Language, Mathematics, physics and some other common subjects. Firstly, to examine the gender differences in participation, a ratio"M:F", which is the ratio of the number of males to the number of female sitting the examination would be reported. Secondly, to examine the overall gender differences in performance, several statistical tools are adopted. Following most overseas research (Feingold, 1988; Feingold, 1994; Hdye, 1981; Hdye, Fennema & Lamon, 1990; Hdye & Linn, 1988; Linn & Petersen, 1986), the two popular statistical tools,"d" and "w2", are used to represent the magnitudes of overall gender difference."d" is the effect size of gender difference which is calculated by dividing the mean differences between the gender groups by their average within group standard deviation."w2" measures the proportion of variance in the entire distribution of scores that can be accounted for by gender differences. In order to compute d and w2 , the grades in the examination reports are converted into marks by giving a weighting to each grade (ie. 6 for A; 5 for B; 4 for C; 3 for D; 2 for E; I for F). Moreover, in order to understand the gender differences better in daily-life terms (Eagle, 1995; McGraw & Wong, 1992), another statistic is also computed. It represents, if males and females are randomly selected, the percentage of occasions the male's score would exceed the female's score, the gender differences would also be analyzed using ANOVA test. In the third part of the study, the magnitudes of gender differences in different grade groups are compared by computing a ratio"%M: %F", which is the ratio of the % of males getting certain grade to the % of females getting the same grade. In the final and most important part, the generation change in gender differences is examined by computing the correctional analyses between the different statistical tools and the years numbers. In the pioneering review, Maccoby & Jacklin (1974) concluded that there was a gender difference favoring girls in verbal ability, and there were differences favoring boys in quantitative and spatial abilities. Consistent with common expectations. It is found that in Hong Kong, males perform better than females in Mathematics; and Physics, but vice versa in Chinese and English languages. However, the results of this study do reveal trends which are found in gender research of recent years. There arc increasingly equal number of boys and girls taking science and arts subjects in HKCEE and HK.ALE, and, though the overall gender differences in performance still exist, they are rather small in most cases and are decreasing over generations (with only a few exceptions). However, educators need to pay more attentions to the fact that, in most subjects, the gender differences in the"A" grade groups are rather large. There arc also evidence that the gender differences arc growing large with increase in age. The result of this study lends more support to psychological and social explanations of gender differences, than to biological ones. It's simply because genes would not change over generations, or at least not at that rate! The results suggest that the talent of females, especially that of the high-ability females, are under-developed in gender-typed areas like science and mathematics. The differentiation magnifies over age, leading to the under- representation of females in the related career fields. Similar arguments can also apply to males. This is a loss not only to individual females and males who fail to realize their full potential, but also a loss to society which is deprived of their full contribution. To account for and to reduce these gender differences, future studies are called for. And to gain better understanding, future gender research should work more in selected-ability groups.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 1996


Cheng, M. Y. V. (1996, November). Gender differences in mathematics, science and language achievement of Hong Kong students. Paper presented at the Hong Kong Educational Research Association (HKERA) 13th Annual Conference: Restructuring Schools in Changing Societies, The Hong Kong Institute of Education, China.


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