Maths - Textbook aspirations

Talented pupils may lose interest in maths because they do not see their own aspirations and lives reflected in textbooks.

A small study of maths textbooks by Edinburgh University researcher Tom Macintyre and research consultant Sheila Hamilton found that all "were marked by stereotypical gender assumptions and were interpreted by the respondents as being tokenistic in reference to ethnic diversity".

On the whole, pupils did not see themselves adequately represented either through use of personal names, interests or preferred occupations.

Credit pupils felt particularly under- represented. They aspired to professions such as teaching, accountancy, architecture, law, dentistry and medicine, whereas textbooks tended to explain ideas through examples rooted in manual jobs or the service sector.

Comments such as: "It's always hairdressers and mechanics" or "if I'm studying (Higher) maths, I'm not going to be a car salesman in 5 years' time" were typical.

The researchers write: "We would argue there is evidence for a review of how practitioners might use or supplement those texts that offer restricted aspirations and feeding of the social norm as opposed to encouraging and supporting learners to break through any glass walls or ceilings.

"Similarly, authors and publishers should be consciously aware of stereo- typical images being portrayed by gender or class and how these may affect participation and achievement."

The researchers analysed Teejay and Maths in Action textbooks, both of which cover Standard grade General and Credit maths. They sought teenagers' opinions through four focus groups of 12 pupils each.

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