The factors that influence ‘maths anxiety’ among primary and secondary school students, showing that teachers and parents may inadvertently play a role in a child’s development of the condition, and that girls tend to be more affected than boys,shows a study report.
Maths is often difficult for many students and not all difficulties with the subject result from cognitive difficulties. Many children and adults experience feelings of anxiety, apprehension, tension or discomfort when confronted by a maths problem.The report was funded by the Nuffield Foundation, with additional support from the James S McDonnell Foundation.
In a sample of 1,000 Italian students, the researchers found that girls in both primary and secondary school had higher levels of both maths anxiety and general anxiety.
More detailed investigation in 1,700 UK schoolchildren found that a general feeling that maths was more difficult than other subjects often contributed to maths anxiety, leading to a lack or loss of confidence. Students pointed to poor marks or test results, or negative comparisons to peers or siblings as reasons for feeling anxious.
“While every child’s maths anxiety may be different, with unique origins and triggers, we found several common issues among both the primary and secondary school students that we interviewed,” says Dr. Denes Szucs from the Department of Psychology, the study’s lead author.
“Teachers, parents, brothers and sisters and classmates can all play a role in shaping a child’s maths anxiety,” adds co-author Dr. Ros McLellan from the Faculty of Education. “Parents and teachers should also be mindful of how they may unwittingly contribute to a child’s maths anxiety. Tackling their own anxieties and belief systems in maths might be the first step to helping their children or students.””Our findings should be of real concern for educators. We should be tackling the problem of maths anxiety now to enable these young people to stop feeling anxious about learning mathematics and give them the opportunity to flourish,” says Dr. Szucs.
Josh Hillman, Director of Education at the Nuffield Foundation, said: “Mathematical achievement is valuable in its own right, as a foundation for many other subjects and as an important predictor of future academic outcomes, employment opportunities and even health. Maths anxiety can severely disrupt students’ performance in the subject in both primary and secondary school. But importantly—and surprisingly—this new research suggests that the majority of students experiencing maths anxiety have normal to high maths ability.