Gender gap warning for maths teachers

31st January 2003 at 00:00
Finland. Finnish teachers may be reinforcing gender inequality with their preconceptions of how well girls and boys do in maths, according to research.

Riitta Soro from Turku University interviewed 204 teachers (110 female, 94 male) - roughly a quarter of the country's maths teachers at lower secondary school level.

The syllabus says that boys and girls must be given equal learning opportunities and that teachers must enforce this. However, Ms Soro's research shows putting this into practice has proved difficult.

While a majority of teachers think both sexes have equal learning abilities, a quarter of them believe that boys possess a natural mathematical talent, enabling them to resolve complex problems by sheer power of deduction. But when girls do well, it is usually attributed to them being more conscientious than boys. However, the results of the maths school-leaving examination show no significant difference in grades between girls and boys.

Around 30 per cent of girls choose advanced-level maths but women account for less than 20 per cent of the student population in technical subjects at further education level.

When teachers were asked how to make mathematics more attractive to girls, the use of role models appeared to be the favoured answer along with providing better information on careers utilising advanced mathematics.

Despite their legal obligation, many teachers did not consider positive encouragement of girls to be their responsibility, but instead expected families, friends and society at large to provide girls with the necessary support.

Although Finnish society is often portrayed as egalitarian, the labour market is strongly segregated. Ms Soro is particularly concerned that in a technology-led society, marginalising girls and women in this field from early on will only reinforce the gender imbalance.

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