Fear rather than talent affects girls’ mathematics

Girls face a big problem with maths says Scots-led research
Girls face a big problem with maths says Scots-led research
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Girls are more afraid of mathematics than boys in 80 per cent of countries, especially in more developed countries, according to research led by the University of Glasgow.

The study focused on girls’ negative emotions about mathematics, described as “mathematics anxiety”.

Researchers defined this as “a psychological factor that can undermine the pursuit of mathematics”, and included time spent working on a maths assignment as well as actual lessons.

Lead researcher Dr Gijsbert Stoet, reader in psychology in the university’s school of education, said the study also found positive female role models and gender equality policies make little difference.

Instead, Dr Stoet said gender issues such as boys being generally less afraid of things than girls was a key factor. But he said the way to tackle such differences was to provide better quality education.

The study revealed girls’ mathematics anxiety was unconnected to whether or not they had mothers working in science, technology, engineering or mathematics. Furthermore researchers found parents in more developed countries were more inclined to encourage their sons’ mathematical development than their daughters. The team, including psychologists from the universities of California and Missouri, analysed data and socio-economic indicators from the Programme for International Student Assessment relating it to World Economic Forum and the United Nations indicators from nearly 500,000 15-year-old pupils in 68 countries.

Dr Stoet said: “Policies to attract more girls and women into subjects such as computer science, physics and engineering have largely failed. Gender equality is a key value in enlightened and developed societies, but our research shows policy-makers cannot rely on it as the sole factor in getting more girls into subjects like physics and computer science.”