Sunday, August 14

Why the gender and emotional perspective in Mathematics is not about “softening” them


Mathematics has returned to the board in the middle of summer and surrounded by controversy. A few days ago the draft of the new Primary Education curriculum was known, which proposes “an education in values” and some changes in the core subjects. The most controversial point is the one that raises to give to Mathematics a socio-affective and gender perspective. Despite being just a draft, the reactions have not been long in coming from the opposition of the PP and Vox, who accuse the Government of “introducing ideology into the classrooms.”

Mathematics with empathy

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Regarding the subject of Mathematics, there were those who affirmed that the new law consisted of “lightening them, brandishing them and making them cute.” “I hope what we are seeing these days in Afghanistan will serve to realize the legendary stupidity that mathematics with a gender perspective entails,” tweeted the secretary general of Vox in the Catalan Parliament. The tone of the debate has degenerated into political opinions and allegations such as those of Murcia and Madrid, which have promised to defy the law and do “everything in our power to avoid it.” But what does it really mean that mathematics teaches “emotional skills” or is given with a gender perspective? Does it have something to do with the difficulty of the curriculum?

“It is not going to make them easier at all, because giving context to something does not mean simplifying it”, argues Anabel Forte, doctor in Mathematics and professor at the University of Valencia. The teacher proposes to focus the subject towards its applications in real life: “Algebra helps in cryptography and geometry helps in the development of physics; mathematics has many social applications, but we do not teach them.” Clara Grima, a mathematical popularizer and professor at the University of Seville, also believes that, far from “softening” them, these new perspectives “make them more difficult.” “Solving problems is more complicated than doing math, but it is also the powerful, beautiful and fun thing about mathematics,” he thinks.

“If any girl wants to do things for the community and contribute to the betterment of the world, the best thing she can do is study mathematics. That is the message and that is the gender perspective,” summarizes Grima. Both she and Forte are used to dealing with university students, who have already made their choice and have opted for a career in science. César Boullosa, on the other hand, teaches Mathematics in Secondary and Baccalaureate, and in those years the gender gap and insecurities are at their highest levels. Although that perception comes from long before.

A study from the journal Science shows that Girls begin at age six to perceive themselves as less bright than their male peers and, in particular, as less suited to mathematics and more suited to biology or literature. “It is not a question of” forcing “the girls to choose these careers, but of avoiding that many girls with vocation stop choosing them just because they do not believe they are capable,” says Boullosa. “It is necessary to promote a vision of Mathematics that is just as attractive for them as it is for them”, proposes Forte. A simple way is to stop masculinizing the statements of the problems and give examples that motivate them to solve them.

“It is not a question of” forcing “girls to choose these careers, but of preventing many girls with a vocation from choosing them just because they do not believe they are capable”

Cesar Boullosa
– Math teacher

The Ministry of Education has divided the subject by senses. The first of these is “socio-emotional”, which tries to “recognize sources of stress, maintain a positive attitude, be persistent, and think critically and creatively.” Of course, it also includes the number sense, the measurement sense, the spatial sense, the algebraic and computational sense, and the stochastic (data interpretation). “We have been involved in a political war and everything that smells of gender or emotions serves as a throwing weapon. They have not even wanted to listen to what the draft proposal refers to,” laments Forte.

Like her classmates, Boullosa flatly rejects that none of these changes are going to affect the quality and demand of the subject. “It is not about making it easier or reducing the content!”, He emphasizes. “These measures are beneficial for the learning of any subject, but it can have great results in the case of Mathematics, also reducing aversion and anxiety towards it.”

More historical references and better opportunities in real life

The inequality in the Mathematics career or in which this subject serves as a backbone is evident and is getting worse. According to statistics from the Ministry of Education, in its beginnings, in 1985, the percentage of students enrolled in the career was quite equal. The curve changed between 1994 and 2006, when women represented more than 60% of the positions. But since 2007, those enrolled in Mathematics have fallen below 40%. A repeating chart across many of the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) majors.

“What have changed are the professional opportunities. When I entered the most common exit of the math it was being a teacher. When I found the one who later became my thesis supervisor, I opted for research and statistics because they had that social component, “says Anabel Forte. The case of Clara Grima, who also studied in a feminized environment and in which Mathematics did not It was a very popular race, it’s similar. “In Valencia I didn’t even have a cut-off mark,” recalls Forte. “With the boom After the digital revolution, the access grade rose and the race began to be monopolized by men, “says Grima.

“When I started, we all wanted to be teachers. Then the career lost that character of service to the community, of caring, and that’s when women disappeared,” she adds. Mathematics began to be a quarry for new technology companies, with the most competitive salaries and the most bitter work environments. “At this point the girls began to be more fearful, more anxious and lagged behind,” says Grima. In fact, a study of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology it infers that “messages that brilliance is essential for success undermine women’s confidence in their educational and professional opportunities,” which contributes to opening gender gaps in fields such as mathematics.

The other fundamental key is the lack of female referents. “Many students know how to mention Pythagoras, Thales, Gauss, Euler, Newton and many others; but almost none can mention only a mathematician, not even Emmy Noether, the mother of abstract algebra,” says César Boullosa. The project “No more Matildas”, presented by the Association of Women Researchers and Technologists in February, was born to correct the historical erasure of women scientists, mathematics and technologists and incorporate it into textbooks. Currently, its presence in school materials barely reaches 7.6%. This is how essential figures such as Sophie Germain, Ada Lovelace and the more modern Katherine Johnson have recovered in recent months.


This is not unique to colleges and universities, but the erasure is perpetuated throughout the professional development of women in science. One of the great consequences is what is known as the metaphor of the “broken pipe” or leaking (leaky pipeline). It goes on to say that although women are more than or equal to representation than men in the early stages of the research career, this proportion decreases as rank and salary increases: 75% never reach the highest positions.

“The fundamental problem is that the technological is very masculinized and the biomedical very feminized, but even in this area the abundance of women does not guarantee that they lead the teams, since the main researchers are usually men”, explains Marta Macho, mathematician and editor from the Women with Science page. The reality is that 90% of jobs require STEN skills and 10% of our GDP comes from the ICT sector, a percentage that is not covered by men. “We need mathematics and mathematicians because if not they will bring them from countries that are better motivating their youth to study those careers,” defends Grima.

Arithmophobia, a problem common to all

Mathematics causes stress. It is what is known as “arithmophobia”. It is a proven and scientifically studied situation in children that generates a feeling of aversion towards them. “Before solving a problem, they suffer from anxiety that is detected in the brain areas corresponding to pain. When solving it, it decreases. It is not irrational, it is an effect of society. In pop culture it is very cool to say that you are bad at mathematics, “says Clara Grima. Teachers claim that it is necessary to treat this painful component and consider the subject as a “fun” and not as a competition: “No one learns with fear”, says the Sevillian teacher.

“The socio-emotional approach in mathematics should be aimed at helping students to increase their self-confidence, to improve their perseverance, for each one to know their strengths and weaknesses, to teach to value the mistakes they make, to work as a team, to form to the teachers so that they know how to generate a positive attitude towards the subject, to bring the subject closer to the student (put examples close to them, real life, visualize content, use manipulative material, promote critical thinking, use technology …), to encourage the student and emphasize that we all make mistakes “, proposes Boullosa, the institute teacher. “A good socio-emotional approach would be beneficial for everyone, not just for them,” he insists.

That philosophy eliminates the dominance of competition, but does not make it disappear. “We cannot keep competitiveness away because the world is competitive, but Mathematics is not only about solving the equation in the shortest time possible,” recalls Anabel Forte. “We insist that the gender and emotional perspective only apply to women, but it is beneficial for everyone. We have to teach mathematics so that people will appreciate it and it is not that subject that nobody wants to take.”





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