Maths and girls

26 February 2013

The percentage of girls studying no maths for their HSC has more than doubled in the past decade, a report co-authored by University of Sydney researchers shows.

John Mack Hon Associate Professor, School of Mathematics and Statistics and Barry Walsh examined data of all Year 8 students in NSW to show the proportion who go on to study maths-science subject combinations for their HSC.

The data revealed there was a substantial increase in the number of girls studying no maths at all in the HSC, and also showed a substantial drop overall in the number of boy and girl students undertaking at least one maths and one science subject in the HSC.

"The decline in maths and science participation coincided with the removal in 2001 of the HSC requirement for at least one course in maths or science," says Dr Rachel Wilson from the Faculty of Education and Social Work, who helped prepare the report.

"It is not a requirement in New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia; although it is compulsory in SA, and to a small extent in Queensland and the Northern Territory. The study calls for policy change to make these subjects mandatory in order to lift participation in high school and to attract more girls to maths and science."

The figures show that in 2001, 9.5 percent of girls undertook no mathematics course for their HSC. In 2011, this figure was 21.8 percent - more than double that of 10 years previously.

Furthermore, in the same period the total proportion of Year 8 girls who went on to study intermediate or advanced maths dropped from 25 percent to 18 percent.

In terms of undertaking science and maths the study also showed that only 1.5 percent of girls and 4.4 percent of boys go on to study advanced maths with both physics and chemistry.

In 2001 some 19.7 percent of boys and 16.8 percent of girls studied a math-science combination in the HSC. In 2011 these figures had dropped to 18.6 percent of boys and 13.8 percent of girls. The decline has occurred despite the fact that HSC participation increased by 5 percent over the period.

This analysis suggests there is an urgent need to address declining female participation and stagnated male participation in intermediate/advanced maths-and-science combinations of study.

The proportion of girls studying such combination subjects has dwindled since 2001 and there is now a greater gender disparity in maths/sciences participation than there was in the 1980s.

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