Monday, June 14, 2010

Why do girls outperform boys in Board Exams ?

In this post, we shall examine a recurring phenomenon. We shall also attempt to find reasons for its occurrence.

It must have been noted by Indian readers, that every year as the results of 10th std. and 12th std. board exams are released, it is reported by the media that the overall pass percentage of girls is found to be higher than that of boys. Note that this holds true regardless of the education board, i.e. CBSE, ICSE or the 15 odd state boards. It also holds true of both, the 10th as well as the 12th standards,

In fact, so annually recurrent and definitive has this trend become, that the year that boys have a higher pass percentage than girls, it would make "breaking" news across all media.

It was recently reported that in cognizance of this trend, colleges in Bangalore have stipulated a higher cut-off percentage for girls in order to seek admissions. This has been termed extremely unfair, and rightly so. For, constitutionally there must not be any distinction in gender (least of all in education), and this decision by Bangalore colleges speaks of a clear gender-bias. This puts the efforts invested by the girls at a disadvantage, thus effectively stymieing their well-deserved fruits of their hard work.

The motive behind this practice by Bangalore colleges apparently is this : girls are somehow "automagically" at an advantage in terms of pass percentage. Hence, they must be put at a disadvantage while seeking admissions, in order to put them at par with boys.

We shall now show, that not only is this reasoning inherently flawed and unjustifiably imposed on the girls of Bangalore, we shall also show that the cause of why the pass percentage of girls is more than boys in the 10th and 12th std. board exams --- has nothing to do with the supposed hard work or genius of the girls. It has a totally different cause.

Now, at some point of time, all of us must have definitely come across advertisements of IIT coaching classes. They display the faces and names of students who have secured high All-India ranks. Newspapers and even TV channels run interviews of the All India toppers, ranked 1,2, and 3.

However, the important thing to note here is that never in the history of the IITs, has any girl topped the country in the IIT-JEE entrance exam. In fact, in the entire history of the IITs, girls are not known to have cracked even the top 10 ranks of the IIT-JEE . Even today --- after 50 years of the IITs being set up --- the number of girls in the top 200 ranks number only in single digits. Needless to say, boys fully dominate the IIT-JEE entrance exam.

Similarly, the teams comprising the International Olympiads for Physics, Mathematics and Chemistry, almost always comprise of boys only. Only twice in 20 years, has a girl been sent to the Physics Olympiad (in 2010, it was Akanksha Sarda, who made headlines in newspapers).

Note that girls are equally visible at the number of IIT-JEE coaching "factories" all across India. There is no statistical bias there.

Thus, from the above two examples, it is clear that the argument of girls being more "intelligent" or "hard-working" than boys is an invalid one. Hence, there must be another reason as to why their pass-percentage in the 10th and 12th std board exams, is always higher than boys, year after after. It can thus only be statistical.

Now, we may note that in urban areas there is almost no distinction in the pass-percentages of boys and girls (and neither in the top ranks). So they are evenly matched in urban areas. However, it must be noted that in rural areas, the percentage of failure of students is more. The reasons are immediately obvious : poor schools and colleges, absentee teachers, dearth of coaching classes, and little income to be able to afford good books or access to urban coaching centres.

Now even amongst the failures at rural and semi-urban areas, the majority are boys. Why not girls ? Because social stigmas don't allow girls to study as far as the 10th std. itself. Hence, when a majority of the rural girls don't appear itself in the 10th (and 12th) board exams, they naturally improve the All India girl pass-percentage --- unlike most of the rural boys who appear only to fail, thus dragging down the All India boys pass percentage.

This is infact true of the 10th std. & 12th std exams and cutting across ICSE, CBSE as well as all State Boards (like the Karnataka state board, which is subscribed to by many Bangalore colleges). Obviously, because the gender discrimination against girls at rural areas is independent of the education board or whether it is 10th or 12th.

It is thus unfortunate that colleges in Bangalore have used the statistical bias of the high girl pass percentage, to further the gender bias against girls at the time of seeking admission. It is a fundamental violation of the right to education of all girls, who studied hard to obtain the marks --- only to be told to once again to stand behind boys. In 21st century "rising" India, this discriminatory practice and that too by educational institutions which themselves teach equality, is unfortunate.

This concludes the study of this recurrent phenomenon. Any comments and suggestions would be welcome.


  1. Very good post. I would like to ask how or from where you got this important information? I had overlooked this crucial aspect.

    Keep writing such informative posts. :)

  2. Thanks for your encouraging comments, Satwinder. About the statistics for rural males and females, just refer to this research paper by the Census department, Government of India :-

    It shows in rural areas, female illiteracy rates and dropout rates are much more than the corresponding rates for males. It is my conjecture, that these dropped out rural girls help improve the overall pass PERCENTAGE for girls at the All-India level, whereas rural boys who appear (only to fail repeatedly), bring down the pass percentage of All-India boys. When the rural girls don't appear itself for the board exams, how will they contribute to the girls pass percentage, compared to failing rural boys, who do ?

    Thank you.

  3. Jaydeepsinh RathodAugust 26, 2011 at 10:44 PM

    I know I am responding to this post more than a year later...

    But I have some important points to contribute. I hope you read this.

    There are two primary reasons why girls outperform boys at school.

    1. Schools make children sit at one place for hours & make them take down notes.

    Boys are more energetic than girls. They need an outlet for this energy. But when they are forced unnaturally to sit for hours what are they going to do ? They will grow restless & disruptive. They are going to be less attentive in the classroom.

    Also, sitting at a place for a long time is considered bad for your health. Hence what schools force children to do is unnatural & harmful.

    2. There are very few men who teach in schools. No one seems to pay attention to the fact that boys look upto adult men & older boys. It is not surprising since they look for clues as to how they should act as males. They are seeking their identity. Who will they then seek for guidance ? Men & older boys. They are their role models. Boys who do not have a positive father figure in their lives fare poorly in schools.

    Combine this with the fact that it is overwhelmingly women who teach in school & it is easy to realise that boys are not going to find learning very appealing. If there are men teaching boys then learning will find some appeal for them.

    3. Besides these factors, teachers are lenient towards girls & harsher on boys in terms of punishment. There is a great drive to educate the girl child & things like women empowerment are rammed down our throats.

    Hence boys as a group are neglected in schools & when this goes on for 10 years or so many boys who maybe very active & bright otherwise, will totally neglect their studies.

  4. Jaideepsinh, thanks for going through the post and taking time to post your comments.

    About the reasons that you've given, they may be truer in the psycho-analytical sense. For example, I agree that boys in general are more energetic and cannot be confined for long times unlike girls. There is indeed a statistical merit in the attention spans of boys being lesser OVERALL, than that of girls.

    However, the other 2 reasons you gave are not universal. For example, I went to co-ed schools that had as many male teachers as female, and boy did our sirs bash us up badly. The female teachers were no less to boys and girls. But yes, after like say 7th or 8th standard, boys continue getting beatings, but beatings to girls just stop (we can easily guess why).

    But all this is not an explanation for the sharp variation in their performances in the board exams. I still maintain that social bias in rural areas is the Primary reason why the OVERALL pass percentage of boys is lesser than girls. When a large number of girls in rural areas don't sit for the exams in the first place, they unknowingly improve the national pass-percentage of girls.

    Though I don't have urban statistics broken up, just do one thing :- In any city, you'll observe the pass percentage of girls & boys in any school or coaching center are more or less equal, because both get the same quality of tutoring. But in small towns and villages, even though the quality of teaching is uniformly poor, when girls are not part of the system at all, only the boys suffer. This brings down their pass-percentage at the state-level and the national level.


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