Dr. S.S. Sodhi (Dal Univ.) Dr. D. Chehil (T.U.N:S.)

That the female school going population does not actively participate in advanced mathematics has been empirically established. It is also true that women are underrepresented in scientific fields such as medicine, dentistry, engineering and architecture.


Lucy Sells, a professor at the University of California, noted this phenomenon in 1972 and called it “a Critical Math Filter”. She agreed that 92% of the incoming freshman girls at the University of California could not major in certain scientific fields because they did not have the high school mathematics preparation. Prof. Fennema, writing for the Journal for Research in Math Education (1981), states that there are genders related differences in course participation in most of the advanced math courses. Writing for Science (1983), Prof. Benbow and Stanley have reached the same conclusions. They comment “that by age 13, a large sex difference in mathematical reasoning gets established and at the higher end of the distribution, boys outnumber girls 13 to 1”.

Neuropsychologists, such as Geschwind and Levy of Chicago University, give a genetic/hormonal interpretation to the nonparticipation of females in math related occupations. They conclude that the female brain is less lateralized and hence less mathematical due to the effects of testosterone (male hormones) in the utero.

Senk, Usiskin and Armstrong, writing for the National Institute of Education, Washington, D.C. (1981) and American Journal of Education (1983), have pushed the blame on child rearing practices of the parents. They also feel that schools create these “math related learning disabilities” in the female population, by not providing more spatial visualization, and problem solving exercises to the girls. They also note that, during junior high school, the girls start lagging behind the boys in problem solving strategies, such as intelligent mathematical guessing, eliminating mathematical possibilities. They also experience difficulties in reducing the problems toa simpler form by using models, paradigms or graphic representations.

It is belief of the present authors that a “head start”, emphasizing spatial visual exercise, intelligent guessing, use of models and paradigms is needed if we want to eliminate the underrepresentation of women in scientific fields. Innovative teachers should keep in mind the socio psychological variables affecting this segment of our school population.

Article extracted from this publication >>  October 11, 1985