I can’t be the only girl who was so bored by maths at school
PUBLISHED: 17:48 03 January 2019 | UPDATED: 17:59 03 January 2019
Maths is for boys, right? Stacia Briggs thinks it has never been a subject that schools wanted to make interesting for girls
That I had any friends whatsoever was a miracle, and that I am unable to afford a pre-paid trip into space on Virgin Galactic considering the vast stash of qualifications I amassed in a few short years of being a total crawler is a continuing tragedy (although understandable: I am a journalist).
Although I was very academic, some would say pathologically academic, my Achilles’ heel was mathematics. Numbers are, and have always been, a foreign concept to me. I understand that people are able to solve quadratic equations, my problem is coming to terms with why they might want to.
Being single-minded and desperate to go and greet the golden intelligentsia I assumed would be waiting for me at university (a misconception which was swept away during fresher’s week), I persevered until I finally passed the GCSE maths qualification I needed to do my degree.
I was lucky – the year I re-sat my maths exam was the advent of GCSEs and I swear they lowered the bar to massage pass rate statistics for the Government. I say this without political agenda – it’s just that I was really, really appalling at maths. And I despised it with a deep, abiding passion: mathematicians tell me that to them, numbers are as beautiful as words; I simply assume this means they’re not quite all there in the top storey.
Recent figures have revealed that boys overtake girls in maths by the age of seven which, according to experts, is all due to confidence.
Professor Valsa Koshy, an expert in primary school maths education at Brunel University, said: “What I have found is that girls are more careful, they take less risks, they don’t jump in. At the start of primary school they don’t have to impress anyone, they are not being marked right or wrong. Girls do not want to take the risk of getting things wrong.”
My problem with maths was never a lack of confidence, it was a total and utter lack of interest. Equally, I’m rarely called upon to write about the sine and cosine rules and areas of triangles, produce a page lead about symmetry and transformations, opine about circle theorem or wax lyrical about loci – astonishingly, people tend to prefer to read about people rather than cumulative frequency diagrams. The dull old spoilsports.
To say that girls aren’t ‘confident’ enough to take maths or science seems somewhat patronising, like we need reassurance or some cheerleading from the sidelines to persuade us to dump the pies in home economics for the pi in mathematics. Also: is anyone suggesting that we should encourage more boys to study English literature or textiles? If not, why not? (Actually, is ANYONE encouraging ANYBODY to spend more time studying the arts? But that’s another debate for another day).
I very much doubt that girls who are talented at maths or science are failing to take the subjects further because they lack confidence – everyone knows that there’s barely any cash in the arts, if I’d been brilliant at maths I’d have taken it all the way and I’d have designed Virgin Galactic myself.
None of the girls I knew at school or the ones I know through my kids today lack confidence – if anything, they’re so overburdened with confidence that it practically walks into the room before they do. Good on them.
These lazy stereotypes – poor girls with no confidence sadly watching at the window as their male colleagues go boldly into a world of algebra – aren’t helpful in the slightest. If you want more girls to excel at maths, make maths and physics in school a bit more relevant and engaging – that’d be a start.