Since the high school reform, they are even less numerous to present the math specialty at the baccalaureate, barely 30%, against 54% of boys. And the gap continues to…
Since the high school reform, they are even less numerous to present the math specialty at the baccalaureate, barely 30%, against 54% of boys. And the gap continues to widen in higher education, then in research. In 2018-2019, there were 27.7% of female students in engineering courses and 28.9% of female students in basic sciences and applications at university. The CNRS has only 16% female mathematicians in its ranks. They are barely 20% at university.
Long unexplained, this discrepancy between girls and boys is increasingly studied. The question of an innate difference between the sexes has long been dismissed by the scientific community. So where does she come from? When does it take shape? A study published by two French researchers in the “British Journal of Developmental Psychology” provides an initial answer. Based on data from the Elfe survey conducted by INED (National Institute for Demographic Studies) and covering a sample of 18,000 children born in 2011 and followed throughout their life, they demonstrated that the advantage in favor of boys appears very early, around 5-6 years old, between the large kindergarten section and CP.
Jean-Paul Fischer and Xavier Thierry observed how students behave when faced with math exercises adapted to their level. In kindergarten, girls obtain slightly higher results. But from CP, the trend is reversed and boys perform better. These results – it is important to note – relate only to mathematics because in French, girls retain the slight advantage they had in kindergarten.
This observation led the Association of Mathematics Teachers in Public Education (Apmep) to take up the issue during its annual congress which was held in Jonzac (17) at the start of the school holidays. “This challenged us, underlines Claire Piolti-Lamorthe, the president of the association. We thought it was an opportunity to question ourselves about our practices. Children are not in school all the time, there are other factors that come into play. But how we are in class and how we behave in class can play a role, because there are stereotypes that we have internalized. A teacher in a Lyon college, she remembers one of her former ninth-grade students, a good student, who came back to see her a year later when she was in high school, explaining to her: “I have the same average than a boy but they don’t want me to go to first S”.
During its congress, the Apmep therefore devoted its current issues to this subject with a round table entitled “Threats of stereotypes and professional gestures: what vigilance? Four professionals, teachers and trainers, came to share their experiences and try to give their peers ways to improve. Maria Popa-Roch, lecturer in social psychology, first recalled that stereotypes concern everyone. They correspond to a need to efficiently process information by categorizing it. They are activated automatically without you necessarily realizing it. “So you have to practice spotting stereotypes and thwarting them. »
Let the girls do the talking
For Laure Étevez, trainer and head of the Women and Maths group at Apmep, this requires “simple things to put in place”. For example, when a teacher questions the pupils, it is better not to give the floor to the volunteers first, it is often the boys who monopolize it. “Waiting a bit helps girls, but also the most shy ones, to dare to get started. You also have to be careful not to create groups based on gender. In kindergarten, when we place the girls on one side and the boys on the other to count them, we already put in the heads of the children that there are differences between girls and boys. »
A little later in school, it is the statements of problems that sometimes need to be reviewed. “When we say: mum goes to the market and brings back cabbage and carrots… we only reinforce the stereotypes that may already be at work in families”, recalls Danielle Ruetsch, trainer for the REP + (network of priority education) at the Academy of Strasbourg.
A discipline like no other
Last factor of exclusion, maths is not perceived as a discipline like the others, recalls Maria Popa-Roch. “Their social value is very important. When you are good at math, you are considered intelligent. There is a halo effect”, even if we are not efficient in other disciplines. It is this phenomenon which still pushes girls today, who often have more homogeneous results than boys, not to choose maths. They will turn to other disciplines, when boys choose science by default.