Dec 5 / Eoghan O'Leary

Boys are outperforming girls in Leaving Cert Maths and the gap is getting wider. Why?

The gender gap in Leaving Cert maths performance, with boys outperforming girls, has widened, prompting investigation into the causes of this trend. In the early 2000s, girls constituted about 44% of top grades (H1s) in higher-level maths, but by 2023, the figure had dropped to 37%.

The decline is linked to changes in the curriculum, particularly the introduction of Project Maths reforms and the incorporation of spatial reasoning in exam questions, favouring boys.

The Society of Actuaries' report underscores the connection between spatial ability and problem-solving, highlighting a gender gap in spatial reasoning that tends to widen in secondary school. The report suggests that these changes disproportionately affect female students.
Creative teaching approaches are being employed to address the gap. Teachers, like Horst Punzet, integrate art, such as origami and decorative patterns, into math classes to enhance spatial awareness, precision, and problem-solving skills. The emphasis on problem-solving in the curriculum, coupled with a lack of confidence among teenage girls in math problem-solving, contributes to the disparity.

Potential solutions include encouraging subject choices that enhance numerical and problem-solving skills, providing quality tuition, and ensuring sufficient time for math on the timetable. The Society of Actuaries stresses the urgency of addressing the gender performance gap, as it may impact female representation in senior roles in financial services and STEM careers. Overall, the issue requires attention and creative solutions to promote equal opportunities and achievements in Leaving Cert maths.

The full article is available on The Irish Times.