Want to boost Maths? Bring in more female teachers…

Published in:  Education

by Pisana Ferrari – cApStAn Ambassador to the Global Village

Results from the latest “Trends in Mathematics and Science Study” (TIMMS), run by the IEA For Education, have revealed a correlation between confidence in a subject and performance, and that lack of confidence could put a student off pursuing a subject to a higher level. TIMMS 2015 also showed that confidence in maths drops as a student gets older, with 32 per cent of grade 4 (10-year-old) students reporting feeling very confident in maths, compared with just 14 per cent of grade 8 students (14-year-olds).  

The article also reports “a persistent gender issue”. It refers to the 2017 UNESCO report titled “Cracking the Code: Girls and Women’s Education in Stem”, which, drawing on many studies, including IEA ones, demonstrates an underrepresentation of girls in STEM courses in higher education and sheds light on the “oft-repeated stereotypes” about “Maths being for boys”. Even if girls don’t personally believe that maths and science are “just for boys”, says the author, knowing that people in their immediate environment hold such beliefs can undermine their confidence and, ultimately, their performance.  

Dr. Dirk Hastedt, Executive Director at the IEA, looked in more detail at the differences in achievement of students taught by male and female teachers and at how confident those teachers were in their ability to teach Maths. In most countries achievement was not linked to the gender of the teacher; in the few countries where it was, generally students with a female teacher did better. In contrast, in most countries male teachers had greater self-confidence in teaching Maths. Harmful stereotypes may well linger beyond childhood, he says. Female pupils and teachers, “have had a barrier thrown up that damages confidence and prevents more women from opting to become Maths professionals”. One possible solution: bring in more female teachers…


IEA: The International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement is an international cooperative of national research institutions, governmental research agencies, scholars, and analysts working to research, understand, and improve education worldwide.

TIMMS: The IEA’s “Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study” (TIMSS) is a series of international assessments of the mathematics and science knowledge of students (4th and 8th grade) around the world. It does not measure only learning outcomes, but also collects a wide spectrum of contextual information about mathematics and science teaching. This includes insights into students’ backgrounds, including their attitudes to the subjects, but also how prepared their teachers feel.