Friday, September 30, 2022

Gender discrimination causing girls to fail in maths class: UNICEF

The report raised the alarm on how issues of sexism and gender stereotypes have undercut the potential of girls in the classroom.

• September 15, 2022
Schoolgirls in a classroom setting used to illustrate the story
School girls in a classroom.

Girls worldwide are lagging behind boys in mathematics, with sexism and gender stereotypes among the root causes, according to a new report published by UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

‘Solving the equation: Helping girls and boys learn mathematics’, a new report published on Wednesday by UNICEF, revealed a growing worldwide disparity in maths skills between girls and boys.

The report raised the alarm on how issues of sexism and gender stereotypes have undercut the potential of girls in the classroom.

The report features new data analyses covering more than 100 countries and territories, revealing in headline terms that boys are up to 1.3 times more likely to get the maths skills they need compared to girls.

“Negative gender norms and stereotypes often held by teachers, parents, and peers regarding girls’ innate inability to understand mathematics are contributing to this disparity. These stereotypes are projected onto young girls and often undermine their self-confidence, setting them up for failure,” UNICEF said in a statement.

The report further recognised the long-term effects of sustained gender disparities, specifically noting how boys are more likely to step up and apply for jobs in mathematics. The finding represents a stark gender gap, depriving the entire world of talent in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

“Girls have an equal ability to learn mathematics as boys – what they lack is an equal opportunity to acquire these critical skills,” UNICEF executive director Catherine Russell said. “We need to dispel the gender stereotypes and norms that hold girls back – and do more to help every child learn the foundational skills they need to succeed in school and in life.”

Learning maths at a young age strengthens memory, comprehension, and analysis, in turn improving children’s ability to create, the report noted. Ahead of the crucial Transforming Education Summit on Monday, UNICEF warned that children who do not master basic maths and other foundational learning might struggle to perform critical tasks in the future.

An analysis of data from 34 low and middle-income countries featured in the report shows that while girls lag behind boys, three-quarters of schoolchildren in grade 4 elementary classes are not obtaining foundational numeracy skills.

Data from 79 middle and high-income countries show more than a third of 15-year-olds have yet to achieve minimum proficiency in mathematics. These statistics reveal the depth of educational issues plaguing all genders.

Household wealth is also a determining factor. The report notes that schoolchildren from the richest households have 1.8 times the odds of acquiring numeracy skills by the time they reach fourth grade than children from the poorest households.

Children who attend early childhood education and care programmes have up to 2.8 times the odds of achieving minimum proficiency in mathematics by age 15 than those who do not. The report also noted the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on further entrenching gender disparities.

Similarly, mass disruptions to education systems worldwide have delayed progress for all students. In countries where girls are more likely to be out of school than boys, the overall disparities in mathematics proficiency have been growing since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, UNICEF has called on governments to commit to reaching all children with quality education and arguing for renewed effort and investment to re-enrol and retain all children in school.

The UN agency also called on governments to increase access to remedial and catchup learning, support teachers and give them the tools they need, and ensure that schools provide a safe and supportive environment so all children are ready to learn.

“With the learning of an entire generation of children at risk, this is not the time for empty promises. To transform education for every child, we need action, and we need it now,” Mr Russell said. 


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