Girls’ underrepresentation in high-level post-compulsory mathematics is a longstanding issue of concern in many Western nations, with innumerable efforts to increase their participation producing little impact. In this paper, we shed new light on girls’ underrepresentation through a post-structural feminist investigation of mathematics teachers’ discursive constructions of high-level senior secondary mathematics students. Our analysis of semi-structured interviews with 22 Australian mathematics teachers revealed gendered views that serve to exclude many students from the high-level mathematics student category. Most concerning was their recurring naturalised construction of successful high-level mathematics students as endowed with the right, invariably male, brain. In so doing, teachers repeatedly closed off the possibility of success to those lacking such a ‘mathematics gift’, effectively ‘counting girls out’. We argue that increasing girls’ participation in mathematics requires moving beyond current efforts to raise female interest and confidence to, more profoundly, disrupt enduring discourses of male superiority in mathematics.
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The Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage (ICSEA) is a standardised Australian scale with a mean of 1000 and standard deviation of 100 which uses student level data (proportion of Indigenous students as well as parent education and occupation) and school location to measure school socio-educational advantage. A higher score indicates a relative lack of disadvantage.
We use the term ‘giftedness’ to reflect the invocation of the phrase ‘mathematics gift’ used by some participants in discussing this subject position.
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The content of the paper is the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily reflect the views of the funding bodies.
This work was supported by the Department of Education and Training; Australian Research Council and NSW Department of Education [grant number LP12100013]. The extension study reported in this paper was supported by the estate of Margaret Bowers, a dedicated teacher of mathematics to girls. Felicia is currently supported by a Research Training Program Scholarship (RTS).
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Appendix Teacher interview questions
Appendix Teacher interview questions
Can you tell me a little about the school and about the mathematics department?
Can you describe the level of interest shown in mathematics at your school? (by girls/by boys)
Can you tell me about the advice you give to students regarding choosing mathematics for their HSC?
On average, what proportion of students take mathematics for their HSC? (level, girls/boys, why would a student choose each level)
Can you tell me about the kinds of students who usually choose advanced mathematics for their HSC?
Can you tell me about the kinds of students who do well in mathematics? What sort of careers advice, if any, would you give to these students?
If I name a few jobs to you can you tell me about the type of student they would suit and why? (Nurse, mechanic, engineer, mathematician/statistician, computer scientist, veterinarian, physicist, builder, doctor, lawyer)
What do you think could help more students/girls/boys with mathematics?
Note: HSC, or Higher School Certificate, is the name of the Year 11 and 12 matriculation qualification for NSW students.
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Jaremus, F., Gore, J., Prieto-Rodriguez, E. et al. Girls are still being ‘counted out’: teacher expectations of high-level mathematics students. Educ Stud Math 105, 219–236 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10649-020-09986-9
- Secondary school mathematics
- Subject choice