Students put off by geeky image of maths

May 13th, 2008 - 1:28 pm ICT by admin  

Washington, May 13 (ANI): Geeky image of mathematicians are preventing students from studying math or using the subject in later life, suggests a new study.

Many students think of mathematicians as old, white, middle-class men who are obsessed with their subject, lack social skills and have no personal life outside maths.

Their views of maths itself included narrow and inaccurate images that are often limited to numbers and basic arithmetic.

The study revealed that many of the cliched perceptions, which it identified, were linked to the way in which mathematics and mathematicians are presented in popular culture.

The subjects negative portrayal in popular culture is contributing to the lack of interest.

Although there has been an increase since 2006, the number of people in England and Wales choosing to study maths has been in decline in the last decade.

The researchers Dr Heather Mendick and Marie-Pierre Moreau from London Metropolitan along with Prof Debbie Epstein of Cardiff University conducted a survey involving focus groups and interviewed GCSE school students, final year mathematics undergraduates and post and undergraduate students in the social sciences and humanities.

Given the narrow, negative cliches associated with maths and mathematicians, it is hardly surprising that relatively few young people want to continue with the subject, said Dr Mendick, lead researcher.

A substantial majority of both Year 11 and university students saw maths as little more than numbers and mathematicians as old, white, middle-class men, she added.

The researchers found that the notion of mathematicians as geeks was common both among those who identified with the subject and those who did not.

Images of mathematicians Albert Einstein and John Nash were labelled as not normal, lacking social skills and being obsessive towards mathematics.

But those students who chose to continue studying mathematics for A-level or at university were more likely to regard this obsession as indicating skill, commitment or devotion than madness.

Some mathematics undergraduates, particularly males, gave positive value to geek status, even though several went to considerable lengths to claim their own normality.

This raises two important issues: first, we can see how popular culture is deterring many people from enjoying maths and wanting to carry on with it and, second, it raises issues in relation to social justice as these images are mainly of white, middle-class men and so may discourage other groups disproportionately, said Mendick.

The study was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. (ANI)

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