UNICEF reports that more than 50 per cent of the world’s women are offline.

This is more pronounced in developing countries, where the internet penetration rate for adult women is 41 per cent, compared to 53 per cent for men. As education moved into the digital realm during the pandemic and collided with existing gender-based barriers to education, it seemed obvious that girls and women would be impacted the most.

However, results from OUP’s survey were mixed. The majority of teachers (83 per cent) believe that the shift to digital learning in their countries was equally negative for both male and female students. Based on evidence, this is surprising and could suggest that there are hidden complexities to unpack before policymakers plan any gender-based educational interventions.

Of those surveyed who did believe that the switch to digital learning has been more negative for either gender, there was a slight tendency towards believing that boys have been more negatively impacted than girls (14 per cent said boys have been more negatively impacted vs. 5 per cent who believed girls have been more negatively impacted).

Those teachers who reported that boys have been more negatively impacted by the switch to digital learning than girls gave a range of reasons; the most common of which included boys being more likely to play computer games, watch TV or surf the internet instead of learning (35 per cent), and boys being less motivated or less interested in learning (25 per cent). Those who reported that girls have been more negatively affected primarily linked reasons to societal expectations that girls would do household chores or be expected to take on caring responsibilities in the home, resulting in them being unable to participate in remote learning (17 per cent). Some teachers also reported that society was generally prioritizing boys’ education. Consequently, it seems that gender-based expectations cut both ways: while societal limitations on girls’ education are, sadly, not a surprise; boys may also be bound by preconceived notions that they are inherently less motivated or more easily distracted.

Of note, some wider research has suggested that boys in the developed world have a small advantage over girls when it comes to computer-based reading tests.

According to the 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), boys score higher on computer-based PISA reading tests than on the paper-based versions. Experts have suggested that this might be explained largely by boys tending to have a greater familiarity with computers, which is linked, in turn, to the fact that boys often spend more time playing video games. Conversely, OECD research has also noted that playing video games was a ‘double-edged sword’ for boys – the more they play, the worse their performance on paper-based tests, and excessive playing can reduce time spent on homework.