Is maths hard for girls?

Schools should create a favourable environment for both girls and boys to take on science-related subjects. / Chik.
Dr Lydia Mpinganzima holds a PhD in mathematics, and is a lecturer at University of Rwanda, School of Science and Technology.
 
Mpinganzima is one of two ladies who studied pure mathematicstill the PhD level, she says.
 
She became fond of maths when she was a child in primary school.
 
“When I was in P6 I had a maths text book and I would make all the calculations in it. Whenever something was hard, I would ask my teachers and they would always help me and show me how to do it,” she says.
 
However, Mpinganzima says many girls ‘fear’ or dislike maths, saying it’s too difficult.
 
“Where I teach, in chemistry, the girls cover roughly 40 per cent, in electronics they are about 25 per cent and in pure maths, we have only 10 per cent,” she says.
 
For her, it’s ridiculous that mathematics is difficult for girls because the challenges are the same for both sexes.
 
“If a girl does well in French or history, she can also do well in maths, chemistry and physics. Challenges in sciences for girls are the same even for boys. There are no discriminations. It requires putting ineffortlike any other subject,” she says.
 
Aline Utetiwabo, a senior five student at Gashora Girls School doingphysics, economics and maths, dreams of being a civil engineer after her studies.
 
She understands maths, she says. She came in second place in a maths competition in which 143 students from 10 high schools in the country participated, boys included.
 
“I like maths, and if someone has a mentor, it is the easiest subject,” she says.
 
Maths, physics and other science subjects are sometimes difficult to solve, but not to the level that they can’t be solved. It requires effort and not giving up when one fails, Utetiwabo says.
 
“I was very happy because at least there was a girl among the winners. It shows that girls in science are getting stronger. People think boys must win, especially in maths and science because girls are not‘designed for them’. I hope that as time goes on, we will finally be at the same level, in number and success,” she says.
 
Girls must have confidence and take on sciences, put effort in their studies and they will succeed, she adds. 
 
Yvan Gatete, a student from Lycée de Kigali and the winner of the maths competition, says he studies with girls in the same class, and sometimes, they get better results in maths.
 
“It’s not about girls or boys; maths requires practice and making an effort to understand. It’s only difficult for someone who doesn’t like it,” he says.
 
Dr Ignace Gatare, the principal of UR’s College of Science and Technology, says at the end of the secondary level, girls and boys in sciences are nearly equal.
 
“It’s a good step, the important thing is for higher institutions to give equal opportunities to girls and boys and help them succeed and contribute to the country’s development. There is a progress compared to the past, but we should not stop here,” he says.
 
Accordingto Gatare, girls in sciences in higher education cover 25 per cent and, there should be a study detailing the challenges that girls meet in higher education institutions and solutions to these encounters.
 
“For example, create a comfortable environment for girls, because girls who enrol in sciences and maths do well in class,” he says.
 
“Parents also have a key role to play in encouraging their children to take on these subjects. If they find their children are interested in such options, they have to support them, instead of making choicesfor them,” Gatare says.
 

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