A recent study by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) has highlighted the problem of girls’ lack of math confidence. From the report:
Girls “lack self-confidence” in their ability to solve mathematics and science problems and achieve worse results than they otherwise would, despite outperforming boys overall
Girls do worse at math and sciences than boys, even though they do better in other subjects. This gender gap occurs in the majority of countries who took part in the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) tests, but the gap in the UK, the US and Western Europe was much more noticeable.
A spokeperson from the OECD criticized the teaching of math in the UK which he says was “simple math wrapped in complex words,”compared to Asian countries where complex math is taught earlier and from first principles.
The report goes on to say that this gender gap is not because girls aren’t as clever or able as boys, in fact they do better than boys in reading tests, but their poor performance is due to a lack of confidence in their math skills and their belief that they won’t need math for their future careers.
As the mother of a 15 year old girl, these results sadden me, but I know that looking at the make up of the advanced math groups in her school, the majority of the class are boys, with only 5 girls out of 20 in her class and only 6 girls out of 25 in my 14 year old son’s advanced math group.
The OECD also looked at data from parent questionnaires and found that parents were much more likely to expect their sons to work in careers that needed math than their daughters.
What can we parents of girls do to lift our daughters from the bottom of the math confidence pile?
Show them cool careers that need math
Research from the Universities of Pittsburg and Michigan found that many women who have strong math ability, also have strong verbal ability and therefore have a wider choice of of career options. Make sure your daughter is aware that, if she chooses, she can use both her math and verbal abilities in many of math and science based careers.
Share cool math videos
Who doesn’t love a funny or inspiring video? Make a point of sharing some cool, well-made math related videos with your child. You won’t go wrong with Ted Ed math videos and there are some really cool math and science You Tube channels out there. And don’t forget math related podcasts
Keep up with the latest math education research
The Pisa (Programme for International Student Assessment) tests whose results formed the basis of the girls and math confidence study, take place every 3 years. In between test years, researchers worldwide dissect the the test data to produce findings which parents can use to support their own children’s learning. Quality news websites such as the Guardian, The New York Times and the BBC are good sources for finding out about the latest math education research. Of course, Maths Insider also highlights research based ideas to help you help your child with math.
Let them read math
Research (and personal experience from my 4 kids) has shown that girls love reading books more than boys do. We’ve managed to sneak a few math books onto our daughter’s bookshelf over the years. You can find some engaging math story books in the Maths Insider Amazon store in the side bar. Also check out my blog post Go Read Some Math.
Find out what your daughter really thinks about math
Kids, especially as they get older, are often experts at hiding their true feelings. After reading this post, you’re more likely to look out for signs which indicate the level of your daughter’s math confidence. A casual chat in the car, or at the dinner table will yield more insights. You should also check out my “How Confident is Your Child at Math?” quiz here on Maths Insider.
As a biased math fanatic, I’d love it if every child loved math, and as a mother of 4, I’d be content if my own children loved math all the time. In reality, that’s just not going to happen. However, as parents, we want our children to be confident in all their subjects at school, and especially in the core subjects of math and English. We also don’t want the fact that our child is female, to mean she has fewer future career options. The advice above will help raise the math confidence of your child, whether it be your son or daughter, but the research shows the problem is more acute for our girls.