Girls fall behind in math again

WORLDWIDE, girls lag behind boys in maths due to, among other root causes, sexism and gender stereotypes, according to a new report released last week by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Girls “are just as capable as boys of mastering mathematics. What they lack are the same opportunities to acquire these basic skills,” Unicef ​​Executive Director Catherine Russell said at the launch.

The new report, titled Solving the equation: Helping girls and boys learn math (“Solving the equation: Helping girls and boys learn maths”) includes analysis of data from more than 100 countries and territories.

According to the report, boys are up to 1.3 times more likely than girls to acquire math skills.

Negative gender norms and stereotypes, often promoted by teachers, parents, and other children, about girls’ lack of innate ability to understand mathematics contribute to this disparity.

It also undermines girls’ self-esteem as it sets them up for failure, according to the report.

In April, a report by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) noted that in many countries, girls outperform boys in reading and science “but are less likely to do so” in mathematics, due to prejudice and stereotypes. .

The Unicef ​​report recalls that learning mathematical skills improves memory, understanding and analysis, while improving the creative capacity of boys and girls.

He also warns that children who lack basic math knowledge and other fundamental learning skills may have difficulty performing basic tasks such as solving problems or following logical reasoning.

An analysis of data from 34 low- and middle-income countries found that, in addition to girls lagging behind boys, three-quarters of fourth-grade students are not gaining basic math skills.

On the other hand, data from 79 high- and middle-income countries revealed that more than a third of 15-year-olds had not yet reached the minimum proficiency level in mathematics.

Household wealth is also a determining factor, with students from the wealthiest households 1.8 times more likely to be proficient in math by fourth grade than those from the poorest households, according to the report.

In addition, boys and girls who participate in early childhood care and education programs are up to 2.8 times more likely to reach minimum math proficiency by age 15 than those who do not receive such education .

According to the report, the COVID-19 pandemic may have contributed to children’s math skills further deteriorating.

Another consideration is that the analyzes focus on girls and boys who are currently in school, and in countries where girls are less likely to be in school than boys, overall differences in math skills are likely to be even larger. .

The Unicef ​​report was presented in view of the fact that the Education Transformation Summit was held within the framework of the UN General Assembly with leaders from around the world.

Russell insisted that “we must break down the stereotypes and gender norms that hold girls back and redouble our efforts to ensure that all boys and girls gain the basic skills they need to thrive in school and in life .

UNICEF calls on governments to commit to providing all children with quality education and to make new efforts and investments to re-enroll and keep all children in school.

It also calls for expanding access to remedial and catch-up classes, supporting teachers and giving them the tools they need, and ensuring schools provide a safe and supportive environment for all girls and boys to be ready to learn.

For Russell, “the learning of an entire generation of boys and girls is in jeopardy. This is not a time for empty promises: to transform early childhood education, we must act, and act fast.”

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