“Boys are better than girls in mathematics”: a generally-believed statement. However, there is no scientific evidence to prove it. More boys than girls call mathematics their favorite subject, and statistics show that their grades are higher than girls’. What’s more, boys participate in more extracurricular math activities, such as summer math schools and math competitions. The truth is that more boys than girls claim to like math but, can we assume that this happens because they are “better” at it?
The truth can be found in the following sentence: boys are better at math because they are more fond of the subject. But is there a reason to explain boys’ preferences? Some scientists explain it based on the different functions between the right and left sides of the brain (the right side is more active in males) or based on research and studies showing that boys have a better understanding of space.
However, according to another scientific view, social and cultural factors influence boys’ like or girls’ dislike for mathematics. Culture creates standards about what subjects we consider “male” and “female”; conventional behavior, prevalent ideas, and the mass media reproduce these standards. Typical families thus pass them on to their children as life goals, or even as a life philosophy. Children adjust to this framework and learn to get involved in specific fields of interests, such as mathematics. If the child is encouraged to start with mathematics, the percentage of success is high. On the contrary, if a child loses interest in this field because it was never given the right motive to explore it, it is more likely to fail.
According to research, when girls are asked how they feel about mathematics, they reply that:
1. Math is an unknown field for them, so they are afraid of failure;
2. They are not sure of the purpose of mathematics in school;
3. Math doesn’t fit in the ideal image they have created for themselves;
4. They are not aware of their potential; they don’t feel confident about solving problems.
As a parent, what can you do to encourage girls to bring out their talent in math?
First of all, you have to recognize your child’s talent at an early age. Let them play math games, puzzles and encourage them to sign up for summer math classes, and participating in math competitions. Also, encourage them to meet children with common interests. Challenge them to read higher level physics and mathematics and solve more difficult problems than their class level.
A very important thing for all fields, not only mathematics, is to promote your girls’ self esteem. Help them be confident about their skills; talk to them about great women with great careers in this field as well as in other fields (such as literature). Tell them that sometimes, the media promotes a false image of women and girls – teach her that each and every person is special. Last, but not least, if you have a boy and a girl in your family, do not treat them differently.