Study calls for less gender pigeonholing Parents need to do more to breakdown sexual stereotyping that accentuates achievement gaps between girls and boys, the head of the Chinese University team involved in an international study on student performance said this week. Esther Ho Sui-chu said assessment scores clearly showed teenage boys continued to do better in maths than girls, but girls were racing ahead in reading skills. There was no statistical difference in science scores. 'We really don't emphasise the importance of reading for boys enough in the home,' Professor Ho said. 'I think it is down to parents to do more. 'Don't have the stereotypical view that boys are always active and don't like sitting down reading ... or that maths and science belong to boys and are not suitable for girls.' Professor Ho is director of the research unit that carried out local testing for the 2006 Programme for International Student Assessment, the results of which were released on Tuesday. The study, run by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) tested the maths, science and reading abilities of over 400,000 15-year-olds in 57 countries and regions. In Hong Kong, Professor Ho's team quizzed 4,645 students in 146 schools. Their average marks ranked second in science, third in reading and equal third in maths. Local literacy scores showed a strong improvement on the previous two rounds of the three-yearly study, rising to a score of 536, compared with 510 in 2003. Professor Ho said this success was down to increased promotion of reading habits in schools and also by parents in the past three years. It also matched results from the Progress in Reading Literacy Study of 10-year-olds, released last week, she added. That study found local students' literacy rate had gone from 528 in 2001 up to 564 last year. Both tests were weighted around an international average of about 500. However, the gender gap evident in both studies showed more needed to be done for boys' reading, as their scores fell further behind girls as they progressed through school. 'At Primary Four, the achievement gap is just 10 points, but by the time students reach Form Four the gap is much larger: more than 30,' Professor Ho said. Parents needed to encourage boys to get more interested in reading. 'You can try buying books on scientific subjects if they are not interested in literature,' she said. Similarly, girls needed to be reminded of the value of maths and encouraged to set higher goals in the subject, she said. Hong Kong students' mean score was 547 in maths in the Pisa study, but girls were on average 16 points behind boys. Yip Din-yan, associate professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, said that although there was 'no statistical difference' between genders in their overall science scores, they were not consistently matched. 'Boys performed better in some areas, such as explaining scientific concepts and drawing conclusions,' he said. 'However, girls were better at identifying scientific issues.' Dr Yip, who was in charge of the science testing of local students, said the broad nature of the Pisa science test explained why few participating countries had found significant gender variation. 'The way you design the test will affect the outcome,' he said. This was also reflected in the reading test.