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Highlighted session: The equity initiative: the role of gender in math acquisition

Tue, April 16, 1:30 to 3:00pm, Hyatt Regency, Bay (Level 1), Seacliff B

Group Submission Type: Highlighted Paper Session


The Education Equity Research Initiative is a collaborative partnership that connects organizations and individuals committed to building stronger evidence and knowledge for improving solutions for equity in and through education. It serves to help ensure that an equity lens is incorporated into data production and research across all education and development programs and policies. With more than two dozen organizations participating in its work streams and task teams, The Equity Initiative is a vital forum for bringing collective knowledge and expertise together to address the challenge of equity. The organizations in this panel are contributing to building the knowledge base and advancing the field in understanding inequities in education outcomes and developing evidence-based solutions to address them. Learn more at

Who performs better in math class-girls or boys? Aren’t boys just naturally better at math? Why do so few girls go into STEM fields? These questions have received much attention in recent years and research on the role of gender in math acquisition shows small but consistent differences between boys and girls. Notably, these gaps grow during the early elementary years and are most pronounced among higher performing students in later years. Many reasons exist in the literature for these gaps, from how boys and girls approach problem solving differently, to the influence of teachers’ math anxiety and stereotyping on student performance. In this panel, we will share data collected in projects ranging from the early years of kindergarten up to lower secondary school, showing how math acquisition trends evolve. Moreover, the panel will investigate why the gaps exist and present strategies on mitigating this in the classrooms in which we work.

This panel brings together an array of perspectives on how children acquire math skills, and how this differs for boys and girls. Starting with data on girls' and boys' performance on a mathematics assessment from the Tayari Preprimary program in Kenya, then moving into discussing trends in boys’ and girls’ performance on a grade 2 math assessment in five countries, and finally examining the gender gaps in mathematics in secondary school and providing insight into what types of interventions may improve the performance of girls, this panel addresses questions related to how gender influences math acquisition. The objective of the panel is to show the differences and similarities in math acquisition between boys and girls and the factors that influence their skills at different points in their education journey.

The panel will be structured as a series of three papers. Andrea Bertone, Director Gender Equality and Social Inclusion Hub at FHI 360 will be the discussant. The first presentation will be by Yasmin Sitabkhan and Benjamin Piper who will present on patterns in mathematics achievement by gender in a pre-primary intervention program in Kenya. The second presentation will be by Shirin Lutfeali and Clara Pava who analyze math assessments conducted across five countries to understand differences in boys’ and girls’ grasp of core foundational skills and probe into reasons why. The last presentation is by Fernanda Gandara who explains the extent to which Ethiopian girls enrolled in secondary school perform differently than boys, in mathematics, as well as the mechanisms that boost girls’ performance.

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