Math Achievement Essay Example
Math Achievement Essay Example

Math Achievement Essay Example

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  • Pages: 12 (3027 words)
  • Published: September 13, 2017
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The objective of this article is to revisit literature on gender disparities in mathematics instruction. It provides an overview of research findings from industrial societies such as the USA, Australia, and UK, as well as developing countries in Southern Africa like South Africa, Mozambique, and Botswana. The paper assesses the underlying causes for differences in math achievement between genders and questions the relationship between mathematics and societal factors such as democracy and power. Additionally, it suggests implications for studying girls' mathematics learning in Botswana and Africa. In the introduction, it emphasizes the importance of conducting a literature review to challenge assumptions made in scholarly studies on gender differences in math instruction. This review serves as a qualitative analysis to understand how these assumptions impact problem definitions and findings within such research studies. The article primarily focuses on literature that examines stud


ies addressing gender dynamics within math classrooms. It is crucial to recognize the exclusion of girls from discussions about math education and their motivation levels when striving towards human development goals in Botswana.This study investigates gender disparities in mathematics research conducted in Western nations, particularly the USA, UK, and Australia.
Despite acknowledging the differences in socio-political, cultural, and socioeconomic contexts between Southern Africa, including Botswana, and Western industrial societies, this paper aims to examine factors influencing African girls' education by considering both similarities and differences. These challenges include HIV/AIDS and unplanned pregnancies faced by girls in African communities. It is worth noting that Botswana also deals with the HIV/AIDS pandemic, high unemployment rates, and poverty like other African countries. Data from various African countries shows that girls aged 15 to 19 have a significantly higher rat

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of HIV/AIDS infection compared to boys in the same age group. Research on gender and mathematics typically focuses on this age group as well. Okojie (2001) states that teenage pregnancy rates are higher in Botswana compared to other African countries according to a survey commissioned by the African Academy of Sciences Research Programme. When researching gender differences, it is important to consider significant problems faced by girls in developing nations such as HIV/AIDS, unplanned pregnancies, and lack of involvement in mathematics. Despite these challenges, motivating students across all subjects remains a major concern for teachers.This paper explores the impact of mathematics on further education and career choices, with a particular focus on Botswana. In Botswana, high school dropout rates and declining interest in math are significant issues that educators and policymakers need to address. The aim is to understand strategies that discourage student engagement and reignite their interest in math. Additionally, this analysis highlights how these issues disproportionately affect girls, who often avoid higher-level math, science, and engineering studies at the University of Botswana. It examines how girls' achievement in math is portrayed both in developed countries and specifically Southern Africa, with a specific focus on Botswana. The study also delves into contemporary perspectives on gender differences in math education.

Recent research takes a more nuanced approach to understanding the causes behind disparities in mathematical performance between males and females. Initially, "sex differences" were believed to be biologically determined and unchangeable disparities. However, during the 70s and 80s, the concept of "sex-related differences" emerged to acknowledge that behavior was influenced by gender but not necessarily genetically determined. Nowadays, the term "gender differences" is used to describe

societal or environmental factors contributing to observed disparities between sexes.

This paper critically reviews research conducted during this period when this understanding arose. Notably, Leder (1996) suggests that more studies were published on gender and mathematics from 1970 to 1990 than in any other area.Fennema (1993, 2000) suggests that despite some flawed and biased studies, they still provided valuable insights into the topic. Gender differences in mathematics acquisition, particularly in tasks involving complex logical thinking, are supported by evidence. These differences tend to increase during adolescence and have been recognized by many math educators. Salmon (1998) also supports this idea, specifically noting differences in situations requiring complex logical thinking at the secondary school level.

Considering the lack of African studies challenging these perspectives, it can be assumed that similar differences may exist in Southern African contexts. Fennema and Sherman's studies in 1977 and 1978 revealed disparities between genders in achievement and engagement, particularly related to gender-based selection of advanced level math courses.

Stanley and Benbow proposed a hypothesis in 1980 suggesting that if females were to participate in advanced mathematics classes at the same rate as males, these gender differences would disappear. They backed up their claim with their own studies known as the "differential course-taking hypothesis." However, this assertion regarding inherent gender differences was heavily criticized and eventually disproven.

Nevertheless, Jacobs and Eccles (1985) argue that the publication of Stanley and Benbow's findings had negative implications.Fennema and Sherman's research revealed that gender disparities in mathematics achievement are influenced by beliefs about the usefulness of learning math and confidence. Males generally have higher levels of confidence in learning math and view it as more useful compared to females. While

young men may not heavily stereotype math as a male-dominated domain, they still believe it is more suited for males. Subsequent studies by Hyde et al., Tartre and Fennema, and Leder confirmed the importance of variables such as confidence, usefulness, and male stereotypes. These factors have long-term effects on both genders but impact them differently.

Maccoby and Jacklin's research found differences between males and females in spatial abilities, particularly in spatial visualization or mentally picturing geometric movements. The Fennema-Sherman studies, along with the Fennema and Tartre longitudinal study, focused on spatial abilities in relation to math achievement. They discovered a positive correlation between spatial visualization skills and math achievement.

However, it was observed that not all girls were affected by poor spatial skills except those with very low scores on spatial tasks. To address this issue, Fennema suggested adjusting the curriculum to accommodate weaker spatial skills (1993).Other studies, such as Kerns and Berenbaum (1991) and Voyer, Voyer, and Bryden (...), also discussed the matter mentioned above. In 1995, it was reported that boys outperformed girls in tests that measured visual/spatial abilities involving inference-making or mentally manipulating pictorial information. This advantage in spatial abilities was observable from childhood but did not reach statistical significance. Casey, Nuttall, and Pezaris (1997) concluded that these differences in abilities and the problem-solving strategies they support contribute to disparities in mathematical reasoning between genders. The publication of the Fennema-Sherman studies during a time of increasing concerns about gender and mathematics had a significant impact. According to Walberg & Haertel's (1992) research, these studies were widely recognized as the most frequently cited social science and educational research studies during the 80s and 90s. They

specifically focused on gender issues in mathematics, including advanced math courses, acquisition of math skills, and relevant variables related to students' course selection and math learning. The Fennema-Sherman Mathematics Attitude Scales have been extensively utilized for planning interventions and conducting research studies. Campbell (1986) highlighted the lack of confidence among girls as learners of mathematics. Tartre and Fennema (1991) conducted a longitudinal survey among students in grades 6-12 to investigate their perception of mathematics.The study uncovered that girls who perceived mathematics as a male-dominated activity typically had lower academic achievement in the subject. Nevertheless, girls attending single-sex schools or participating in extracurricular math activities achieved higher success if they did not view mathematics as exclusively for males. Altering the perception that both genders can excel in mathematics resulted in increased interest and involvement among girls. Reyes and Stanic (1988) as well as Secada (1992) discovered that socioeconomic status, ethnicity, and gender differences all influenced math learning. Positive attitudes towards math and socioeconomic status were found to impact gender disparities in engagement rates (Forgasz & Leder, 1998). It is important to note that these findings are specific to Western cultural contexts and may not directly apply to Botswana. Socioeconomic indicators differ between Botswana and the UK and should be properly contextualized. The issue of ethnicity is intricate in Botswana due to a significant portion of the population being of Tswana ethnic origin. Cultural differences may not affect gender disparities in math similarly as they do in Western contexts. However, there has been a shift favoring girls' performance in math since the early 1990s in the United Kingdom, with girls outperforming boys on national curriculum tests and

higher level GCSE classes.In 1997, the Department for Education and Employment (DfEE) reported that 49% of girls achieved five or more higher grade GCSEs, while only 40% of boys accomplished the same. However, the gender gap in lower levels of GCSE attainment was smaller. In that year, 8.8% of boys failed to obtain GCSE qualifications compared to 6.5% of girls (DfEE, 1997). These statistics highlight contradictory findings regarding gender and academic achievement.

While males tend to receive more top honors in higher education, there is a consistent trend showing that girls perform better than boys in public examinations from earlier stages of schooling. The current focus on schooling is primarily centered around addressing boys' underachievement in public exams rather than girls'. The reasons behind these outcomes remain uncertain but could be influenced by assessment methods, teaching approaches, and societal expectations.

Although boys generally outperform girls in mathematics, there is not a significant difference between their performances. At Key Stage 2, boys have a math achievement rate of 73% at level 4 and above, slightly higher than the rate for girls at 72%. Nonetheless, when it comes to achieving level 5 and above in math, only 32% of boys achieve it compared to just 26% of girls. This suggests that despite the gender gap being smaller in mathematics compared to English performance differences exist between genders.

It is crucial to investigate why girls excel in literacy but struggle with math more than boys do. One possible explanation could be the perception that math is seen as a "masculine" subject by girls whereas subjects like English are considered more "feminine".Despite some studies suggesting that math has become more gender-neutral over

time, there is still a smaller discrepancy between genders in math compared to literacy (OfSTED Report:2003:13;Arnot et al.,1998:31;Archer and Macrae cited in OfSTED Report). Girls consistently outperform boys academically, raising concerns about boys' underperformance. Although the proportion of students achieving good grades has increased overall, girls still maintain a steady 10 percentage point advantage over boys. Both boys and girls from disadvantaged areas tend to receive lower grades compared to their more privileged peers. While girls' performance in poor areas has improved compared to affluent areas, there remains a consistent gender gap between rich and poor boys.

According to Dr.Deborah Wilson, factors such as poverty have a greater impact on exam results than gender does. In England, male and female students have minimal differences in achievement in math exams at various stages (GCSE, AS-levels, A-levels). However, boys still tend to achieve higher grades than girls in mathematics at GCSE and A-levels, although the gender disparity is decreasing. Nonetheless, there continues to be a strong preference for male students in advanced math courses. Despite ongoing feminist efforts, this imbalance has not been fully addressed. As Shaw suggests, as more freedom is granted in choosing math courses, the gender divide becomes more evident.From 1994 to 2002, there was only a slight decrease in the number of male students studying A-level mathematics in England. This trend continues at higher education levels where more men than women pursue math-focused fields in undergraduate and postgraduate programs. According to Mendick, despite a slight shift favoring boys in math performance, there remains a significant gap. Girls continue to disproportionately avoid studying math despite long-standing feminist efforts for change. The text underscores the increasing

dominance of males in mathematics-related disciplines as students progress from sixth-form to higher education levels. It emphasizes that studying mathematics is crucial for academic and employment opportunities, particularly for obtaining higher positions in academia and employment. Despite girls generally outperforming boys in most subjects within the UK education system, they fall behind at higher levels of mathematical education.Mendick believes that understanding individuals' choices regarding the study of mathematics has implications for social justice.According to Bevan's (2005) research review, girls typically outperform boys in mathematics until A-levels, although these differences are small and inconsistent across all subjects.The review also highlights gender disparities in attitudes towards math, varying performance expectations, distinct learning styles between boys and girls,and the effects of ability grouping on each gender.Bevan's interviews found that instructors who lacked formal research experience could still assess gender differences in math learning based on their classroom experiences, but their intuitive judgments tended to exaggerate actual differences. Currently, there is a lack of comparative research on how Botswana teachers evaluate gender disparities in math learning. According to Sparkes (1999), the gender gap in the UK is influenced by various social factors such as parents' education level, reliance on income support or eligibility for free school meals, living conditions, family structure like single-parent households, parental involvement, and participation patterns. These factors differ from those in Botswana; therefore, any comparisons should consider the specific context. It is crucial to include perspectives from Africa, particularly Southern Africa when studying gender differences in math instruction in developing countries. However, limited information exists about contextual research on women and girls in these settings regarding their math education. Kitetu (2004:6-7) acknowledges this unfortunate limitation

from an African standpoint. While some gender programs have been implemented, minimal research has been conducted in African classrooms. Our understanding of gender in classroom practices primarily relies on studies conducted in Western Europe and North America.The text acknowledges the influence of cultural perspectives on studies of social patterns, particularly in relation to gender differences in classroom practices. It highlights emerging research efforts focusing on mathematics in Africa, where patriarchal attitudes have hindered researchers from critically examining this issue. Mahlomaholo and Sematle (2004:4-5) discovered gender disparities in Black South African learners' attitudes towards mathematics, with factors such as parental pressure/choice, peer influence, and teachers' instructions affecting both boys and girls. Some girls attributed their choice to chance or fate and expressed embarrassment for not excelling in the subject. The text also conveys the fear and frustration experienced by these girls towards their math instructors, whom they likened to lions. They believe that mathematics should be accessible to all regardless of gender but find it too difficult and tiresome. In contrast, boys value the discipline of mathematics. Cultural and societal influences have led some individuals to hold misguided views about studying mathematics, which have become deeply ingrained in their minds (Mahlomaholo & Mathamela 2004:3).Furthermore, according to Mahlomaholo and Mathamela (2004:3), South African society has a bias towards men in mathematics-related careers, which is supported by schools. However, three successful women in mathematics were able to overcome this cultural hostility with the help of their socialization, upbringing, and parental support (Mahlomaholo & Mathamela, 2004:7). Despite facing negative comments from teachers and societal stereotypes, these women maintained belief in themselves and their mathematical abilities. The study conducted by

Mahlomaholo & Mathamela (2004:3) found that socio-cultural factors and personal motivation played a significant role in determining female students' success or struggle in mathematics. In Mozambique, Cassy's research (2004:5-6) indicated that despite efforts for gender equity in education policy, more females than males did not benefit from it. This disparity was especially noticeable at higher levels of education and within math-related fields. Boys had higher confidence levels and a more positive outlook on math compared to girls. On the other hand, girls perceived math as male-dominated and believed it was better suited for males. However, both genders recognized the practical value of mathematics.Previous studies conducted in Western cultural contexts using the Fennema-Sherman Mathematics Attitude Scale have found similar results (Cassy, 2004:6). Cassy suggests that a modified scale based on Western research is necessary because many girls express dissatisfaction with certain items. On the other hand, Chacko (2004) conducted a study from a Southern African perspective, focusing on student difficulties in learning math and teaching approaches used in South Africa. Chacko found no gender differences regarding students' liking for the subject. However, Chacko (2004:4) observed that while students had an interest in excelling at math, they found it challenging. This interest in mathematics was especially prominent among students attending township schools who considered it essential for future career prospects. The belief that mathematics is difficult among South African students was also noted in Zimbabwe (Chacko, 2000). According to Hannula (2002), the value of mathematics was determined by students' overall goals. Chacko suggests that students' liking for mathematics is not inherent but driven by their desire to succeed in the subject due to its significance for their

future endeavors. In addition, Chacko notes that girls in township schools, who have more household responsibilities, may face challenges impacting their academic performance (Chacko, 2004:8).The issue discussed in this text is not limited to girls in Botswana. It is common for girls in underdeveloped countries to be assigned household chores, which reduces their time for learning and lowers their future aspirations. In township schools, some girls mentioned that if they couldn't complete homework due to teachers' reprimands, they would rather skip school altogether. This worsens their difficulties in catching up on schoolwork, leading to failure and dropout. When examining gender and mathematics in African contexts, it is crucial to consider the unique challenges present. Chacko (2004:8) discovered that many students, particularly girls, desired a more enjoyable and relevant approach to math that demonstrated its practical application in their lives. Some students were afraid of confessing their lack of understanding to teachers because they feared being mocked by peers or instructors. These issues reflect gender differences commonly observed in African societies, which differ from those seen in Western industrialized nations. The researcher's own experiences teaching at secondary schools both in Botswana and Nottingham (UK) align with Chacko's findings.Efforts have been made to address gender disparities in education within Africa, specifically by increasing girls' enrollment rates which have historically been low. Kitetu (2004) states that the differing levels of participation between boys and girls are connected to long-standing beliefs about male dominance and female subservience. Moreover, this issue is further complicated by patriarchal customs that restrict traditional inheritance rights for girls while prioritizing the education of male children over females. These smaller studies contribute to recent progress

in understanding gender disparities in mathematics within an African context.

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