Welcome to Teaching Feminism, a series about equality in the classroom. Teaching feminism is about so much more than teaching girls. We need to teach all of our students to respect everyone, no matter what. Teaching feminism talks about just that. Have your own story about these issues? Share it here.
Math anxiety in girls is not a new phenomenon. Back in January 2010, a study came out saying that girls learned math anxiety from their female teachers. While the study was not comprehensive in the least — there was no control group, and only a handful of teachers were included in the study, none of them male — it does show that, unsurprisingly, teachers’ attitudes toward certain subjects are passed on to their students. When young women learn to feel anxious about math, then they grow up to teach it, they can pass on that anxiety to their students, and the cycle continues.
A new study is now showing that, among students that suffer from math anxiety, girls are more likely to see a drop in performance than boys are. From ScienceDaily.com:
Mathematics anxiety is a state of discomfort associated with performing mathematics tasks and is thought to affect a notable proportion of both children and adults, having a negative impact on their mathematics performance. Researchers from Cambridge University, UK, set out to investigate in 433 British secondary school children whether mathematics anxiety has any effect on mathematics performance on boys and girls. The team controlled for test anxiety, a related construct, but which isn’t typically controlled for in mathematics anxiety studies.
The investigators found children with higher mathematics anxiety have a lower mathematics performance, but girls showed higher levels of mathematics anxiety than boys and it was a significant indicator of their performance. The fact that there were no gender differences in maths performance despite higher mathematics anxiety in girls could suggest that girls could have the potential to perform better in mathematics were it not for higher levels of anxiety.
It has already been proven that, around the world, there are very few gender differences when it comes to ability in math. However, it is now clear that, among students who suffer from math anxiety, girls’ performance is affected more.
When it comes to math anxiety, especially for female students, we need to be doing more to counteract it. Math anxiety can have detrimental effects on other related stores, such as science, as well. While the European Commission is trying to get girls interested in science by making it “pink and sexy,” we are still seeing a serious lack of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields, and math anxiety might have something to do with it. If girls are being passively taught anxiety towards math, and subsequently see a drop in performance because of it, they will be more likely to go into fields unrelated to STEM, perpetuating the problem.
What can we do? As parents and teachers, we can listen to our students and, instead of imparting our own insecurities, we should listen to their desires and goals and help them find the track that is right for them. We should definitely not push students into one field over another, but rather listen to them and make suggestions along the way.
Photo Credit: iBjorn