Math Achievement

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DECONSTRUCTING THE SCHOLARLY LITERATURE ON GENDER DIFFERENTIALS IN MATHEMATICS EDUCATION: IMPLICATIONS FOR RESEARCH ON GIRLS LEARNING MATHEMATICS IN BOTSWANA.

Alakanani Alex Nkhwalume
Department of Mathematics & Science Education, University of Botswana

Abstract

This paper outlines the author’s purpose for reviewing literature on gender differences in mathematics education. An overview of research findings on gender and mathematics from industrial societies (USA, Australia, and UK) and from some developing countries in Southern Africa (South Africa, Mozambique, and Botswana) is then presented. Some causal factors for the existence of gender differences in mathematics achievement are critiqued and the link between mathematics and social entities (democracy and power) are challenged. The implications of the above for research on girls learning mathematics in Botswana (and Africa) are finally suggested.

Introduction

Literature review should not be considered as merely part of the requirements in scholarly enterprises, but as a critical undertaking in which the investigator exercises a constant scepticism on an issue of interest. In this paper, literature review is used as a process to critique the conscious and unconscious assumptions of scholarly research on gender differentials in mathematics education. It serves as a qualitative analysis to determine how these assumptions force the definition of problems and findings of such scholarly research efforts.

The paper examines literature on research studies which have dealt with gender differentials in mathematics classroom dynamics. The disenfranchisement of girls in mathematics learning discourses and girls’ motivational orientations in mathematics are important issues for the human development efforts in Botswana. The paper draws upon literature from Western countries, specifically the USA, the UK and Australia where research on gender differences in mathematics has been considerable and influential. The socio-political, cultural and socioeconomic contexts in these countries, however, differ from those of Southern Africa in many aspects of development (education, technology, economic, etc.), but there are possibilities to draw parallels, albeit in a limited way. Through considering parallels and differences between Western industrial cultures and Africa, the paper examines issues pertinent to African girls affecting their education.

The literature analysis is against the backdrop of problems such as HIV/AIDS and unplanned pregnancies faced by girls within African communities. Botswana (like most of Africa) is grappling with the HIV/AIDS pandemic; high levels of unemployment and poverty (BIDPA, 2000). The African Economic Commission (1999:5) states that:

Data from Botswana, Burundi, Central African Republic, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe indicate that girls 15 to 19 years old have an (HIV/AIDS) infection rate four to ten times that of boys in the same group.

This is the age group within which research on gender and mathematics has tended to focus. According to Okojie (2001), the Botswana study, commissioned by the African Academy of Sciences Research Programme, indicated the rate of teenage pregnancy being higher than that of most other African countries. HIV/AIDS, unplanned pregnancies and lack of interest in mathematics are amongst real problems that girls in the developing world face which must be taken on board when embarking on a sociological research analysis involving gender differences.

Notwithstanding these developments, the question of how to motivate students in the classroom is a leading concern for teachers of all disciplines. Student motivation becomes especially relevant to mathematics education in the light of recurring questions about how to get more students interested and involved in the subject. As we proceed in the new millennium, Botswana is plagued with significant high-school dropout rates and declining interest...
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