Predictors of female participation in HSC mathematics and mathematics- related careers

Year: 1994

Author: Watt, Helen M. G., Bornholt, Laurel J.

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Students' planned participation in Higher School Certificate (HSC) mathematics and mathematics-related careers was tested for the effects of student gender, mathematics performance, course level, gendered self-perceptions, task perceptions, interest and perceived usefulness. The participants were Advanced and Intermediate year 10 students (N=199) from two co-educational government schools in an upper middle- class metropolitan area of Sydney. A standardised mathematics test measured students' performance, and a questionnaire asked about self- perceptions, task-perceptions, interest, perceived usefulness and plans for participation in mathematics for both the HSC and intended career.

The results support a persistent gender imbalance in mathematics participation. Males more than females intended to participate in the higher levels of HSC mathematics. Gender, task performance, level, perception of talent, perceived effort and interest were significant predictors of this imbalance. There was also a gender imbalance in plans for participation in mathematics-related careers. The predictors of participation in mathematics-related careers were student gender, level and perceived usefulness.

The implications are that in order to increase female participation in the higher levels of HSC mathematics, intervention programs would need to focus on students' self-perceptions in relation to mathematics, in particular effort and interest, and gendered perceptions of talent. Effective interventions regarding participation in mathematics-related careers would focus on students' perceptions of the usefulness of mathematics. Results also raise questions about the meaning of socially categorising students into separate levels of mathematics, with implications for teacher training.