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Mentoring girls into maths

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The Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute (AMSI) and the BHP Billiton Foundation’s Choose Maths Gender Report makes for some concerning reading; only 7 per cent of girls participated in Year 12 advanced maths in 2016 compared with 12 per cent of boys.

The report’s authors believe access to industry and academic maths mentors in Years 9 and 10 is critical to support girls to consider maths as they make key subject selections and explore career pathways. With 100 students and 70 mentors currently participating in the Women in Maths mentoring program, there are plans for broader roll out of the successful initiative in 2018.

A national mathematics mentoring network piloting in five states (NSW, Qld, SA, Vic and WA) aims to encourage and support girls to pursue maths, as new data shows they are 25 per cent less confident in their ability to learn the subject than boys.

While the pilot focuses on Year 9 girls ahead of senior subject selection, today’s report suggests earlier action is needed with girls found to be already trailing their male peers by as early as Year 3, a gap that deepens into Year 5 and remains well into high-school.

“As we expand this pilot, we hope access to this community and the mentorship of academic and industry maths professionals will change how girls view their place in maths and its possibilities beyond the classroom,” says AMSI Choose Maths Executive Director, Associate Professor Inge Koch.

“It is clear intervention and support is needed much earlier than previously thought, to tackle maths anxiety and incorporate teaching methodologies that better engage girls with maths,” says Associate Professor Koch.

As Australia continues its slide in international PISA Mathematical Literacy rankings, dropping from 5th place in 2000 to 25th place in 2015, AMSI Director, Professor Geoff Prince warns time is running out for action.

“It is situation critical for Australian mathematics. Without action in and beyond the classroom, we face an irreparable shortage of skill that will impact innovation into the future,” says Professor Prince.

As well as access to mentoring, the report delivers recommendations to tackle teacher confidence in mathematics and incorporate growth mindset approaches known to be effective in improving student engagement, particularly amongst girls. Something, Schools Program Manager and Project Director of Choose Maths, Janine McIntosh, says the Choose Maths project is already working towards.

“We know that students respond well to learning approaches focused on changing self-perception. Access to growth-mindset resources and support to tackle issues such as planning, pedagogy and content development for teachers form a key focus for the Choose Maths project,” she says.

Based on initial success, it’s hoped the mentoring program will form part of such classroom initiatives nationally. With regular sessions offset by access to an online community space to ask questions and talk maths, as well as face-to-face events the initiative will strengthen understanding of the value of maths as a career pathway.

“Maths is a powerful door to exciting career opportunities. Our mission, through this program, is to support girls to develop 21st century skills through access to role models they can identify with and a critical repository of support and guidance,” says Associate Professor Koch.

The Women in Maths Network is just one component of Choose Maths, a $22 million partnership funded by the BHP Billiton Foundation and delivered by AMSI. Today’s Gender Report re-confirms the need and value of this investment, and its potential impact on the future mathematical workforce.

“The BHP Billiton Foundation is proud to invest in initiatives to empower girls and women to participate in mathematics. This report delivers a powerful message about the work still needed to support girls in engaging with maths in the classroom and as a career pathway. We hope that initiatives such as our Choose Maths partnership with AMSI will help to address some of these challenges” says BHP Billiton Foundation Chief Executive Officer, Mr James Ensor.

AMSI’s Dr Ning Li and Associate Professor Inge Koch authored the Gender Report as part of the Choose Maths project.

You can read the full report at: http://amsi.org.au/media/AMSI-CM-Gender-report-2017.pdf


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