Saturday 24 June 2017

Maths problem for teenage girls

High levels of anxiety surrounding the subject, new study finds

An international report shows that more than two in three (69pc) girls in Ireland worry that they will get poor grades in maths, compared with just over half (55pc) of boys. (Stock image)
An international report shows that more than two in three (69pc) girls in Ireland worry that they will get poor grades in maths, compared with just over half (55pc) of boys. (Stock image)
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Irish teenage girls worry too much about maths, affecting their performance in the subject. The level of anxiety they experience is much higher than boys in Ireland and girls of the same age in other countries.

An international report shows that more than two in three (69pc) girls in Ireland worry that they will get poor grades in maths, compared with just over half (55pc) of boys.

It also shows that 76pc of girls in Ireland often worry about maths classes being difficult, compared with 64pc of Irish boys and 65pc of girls internationally.

A lack of confidence in their mathematical ability means that even the highest-achieving female students in Ireland may shy away from tasks because they think they are too difficult.

The annual gender breakdown of the Leaving and Junior Cert results show that girls compare well, often doing better than boys overall, although boys tend to get more A grades.

But away from the familiarity and perhaps more comfortable confines of the State exams for which they can study, Irish girls are under-achieving on the international stage.

The disparity shows up in the results of the three-yearly international assessment, known as PISA, which compares the performances of 15-16-year-olds across more than 60 countries.

It is a source of concern that Irish teens rate only average in the PISA assessments, but a deeper look at the findings reveals particular worries about girls. Generally, boys in Ireland outperform girls in PISA, but that gap is wider in Ireland than the international average.

The 'PISA in Classrooms' report, by Rachel Perkins and Gerry Shiel of the Educational Research Centre in Drumcondra, Dublin, states that on average, students in Ireland who had higher levels of maths anxiety tended to have lower achievement in the subject.

It looks in detail at the outcomes for Ireland in the 2012 PISA assessment and points teachers to ways to seek to improve performance, including encouraging girls to take more risks with maths.

A worrying consequence of anxiety around the subject is that students avoid maths and the career paths that require mastery of those skills.

The authors say that it is possible that girls in Ireland are less likely to engage with more complex task such as those that appear in PISA for a variety of reasons, including anxiety and a lack of belief in their ability.

There is a greater focus in PISA on more complex questions, where students must use maths in real-life situations.

There are hopes that the new Project Maths syllabus will improve the scores of Irish students, but the statistics pre-date its full roll-out in schools.

Colourful cube helps girls engage more with maths

It looks like a giant Rubik's Cube and it could help teachers solve the puzzle of tacking gender imbalance in STEM subjects.

The findings of a joint research project focusing on Izak9, which was created by former Derry teacher Franz Schlindwein to inject fun into maths learning, showed girls engaged more when using the system.

The product consists of 27 cubes - with different combinations of colour, number and shape. It is designed to stimulate mathematical thinking and interaction among primary and secondary-level pupils with the help of animated on-screen characters, which are aptly named Helix and Abacus.

The main focus of the research was on improving' first-year girls' relationships with maths. Researchers from Trinity College Dublin and Queen's University Belfast were involved.

"The results of this small-scale cross-national evaluation confirm that use of the Izak9 resource appears to improve girls' interest in and enjoyment of mathematics," said TCD's Dr Mark Prendergast.

Irish Independent

Promoted articles

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News