Mon. May 29th, 2023

Aren’t girls brainy enough for Mathematics?

”Pure mathematics is, in its way, the poetry of logical ideas”.

Albert Einstein

If you have inclination and savviness for math, Einstein’s appreciation of calling Maths a poetic rendition, you would rollercoaster smoothly and symmetrically like a sinusoidal wave in consonance with good rhyme and rhythm.

O ya! Algebra keeps two math lover friends-algebros, on their toes dancing through algo-rhythm. If sadly the shoe lies on the other foot, your solution to any equation, will be multiplication of both sides by zero!! It is one of the most common cliche’, mostly with girls, saying that they hate Maths. It is like a sword! When you mess up, it hurts and you squarely lose its sequence and series.

It goes without saying that without mathematics, there’s nothing you can do! Everything around you is mathematics. Maths encompasses all facets of life and spheres- construction, insurance, architecture, accounting etc. It is a great instrument for the development of all other sciences. Physics-an offshoot, builds on mathematics.

Mathematical thought lies in the concepts of form, number, magnitude, and pattern in nature. The very base or idea of the numeral grouping system; penta, octa, deci, and hexa is supported or derivative from the early hunter-gatherer societies’ distinctive language of “one”, “two”, and “many”. Mathematics-a demonstrative discipline of reasoning and rigor, is coined from Greek word mathema. The subject was introduced by Pythagoras in 6BC, carries the characteristics; instructional, deduction and logical reasoning.

Is mathematics the word of God?

Of the many numerals, 7 is a prime one mentioned in Quran many times. Creation and structure of our universe has strong relation with this number. Earth, atom and atmosphere have seven layers, universe has seven skies. The number of verses referred about its creation is also seven! The Hereafter is mentioned 7*10 times. Hell-fire has seven doors and has been mentioned 7*11 times. Allah mentions 7 in Quran that He made heaven into seven firmaments. And the number of verses between the first verse that mentions 7 and the last verse that mentions 7 is 5649, a multiple of 7!!

Wondering how many math fellows, including myself, clutching unto varied denomination of degrees, how far feel at ease even today, of trying to fathom such mathematical complexities, which were often posed to the caliph Hadhrat Ali (RA) then. Someone pointedly interrupted secretary general of Holy Prophet (PBUH), the fourth caliph at the pulpit for distribution of inheritance to a wife of a deceased person, who has left behind a wife, his parents and two daughters? Iman Ali (AS) instantly answered, “the wife’s share becomes one ninth”. Which are so fixed and prescribed one-eighth, one-sixth each, two-thirds in Quran, chapter 4, verses 11,12 respectively. Its least common multiple (LCM) being 24, the numerator exceeds denominator by 3. So, wife partakes 3 out of 27, hence one-ninth. He-gateway of knowledge and mathematically brilliant, took him a second to reply. On another occasion a Jewish polytheist with the intention to embarrass him among his Arab fellows asked a tough question, ‘tell a number which when divided by any number 1-10, gives a whole number, not a fraction? Ali (AS) told him, “Take the number of days in a year and multiply it with the number of days in a week and you will have your answer.” Number of days in Arab year is 360, thus 360*7=2520. The reader take note this his homework! Or in another instance how amicably a dying person’s complicated will of dividing 17 camels amongst his three sons; one-half, one-third and one-ninth in order of seniority, was resolved after his death? Ali (AS) lent them one camel of his own, but he took back his after distribution! Since each son out of 17+1 will get nine, six and two, which sum to 17.

Once upon a time, two travellers having three and five loaves of bread sat under a tree to have their meal, which was joined by another passer-by. They sliced each bread into three pieces and each ate eight pieces. While leaving, the passer-by handed each 3 and 5 dirhems, but the three-loaf-man disputed and insisted for 4. The dispute was taken up with Hadhrat Ali (RA), the then caliph of the time, whose generosity knew no bound, straight away asked the three-loaf-man to accept three dirhems but he didn’t yield. Regrettably, to his dismay he incurred heavy loss, when Ali’s (AS) mathematical ingenuity came into play. The caliph said, since out of 24 pieces, everyone has eaten 8 pieces. The three-loaf-man has shared one and the five-loaf-man seven pieces with the third person, hence he should get one dirhem and the other seven. Mathematical ignorance was bliss but his greed superseded it!

Chronologically the first ever written mathematical evidence is attributed to Sumerian’s Mesopotamian ancient civilization, dating back to 3000 BC. Ancient Egyptians for developing and study of calendars, astronomy, patterns in nature, commerce, trade and taxation used geometry, algebra and arithmetic. Romans from surveying, engineering to bookkeeping, introduced solar and lunar calendars through applied mathematics. Chines introduced negative numbers and place value system. Rules of operations-BIDMAS, evolved in India was introduced to Western world through the works of mathematician like Al-khwārizmī. During 15-17th century of Middle Ages Renaissance, Isaac Newton and Leibniz in Latin, developed infinitesimal calculus.

Math broadly categorized pure and applied along with other physical sciences play fundamental role in progress of any country. It encompasses all affairs of human facets and spheres-social, economic, even the political domain. Human history is attestation of this powerful tool of knowledge and its significance to improve one’s ability to think and perceive, posing unique challenges, generating power of reasoning, creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving ability, and even effective communication skills. Math being mother of all sciences, unravels myths and mysteries, makes it easier to understand worldly affairs. Those who do math well, comprehend complicated matters well and have greater analytical and higher-order thinking skills. Danica McKellar says, “math is the only place where truth and beauty mean the same thing”.

The state and statistics of math and science subjects at middle level graphically paints a gloomy projection and grave picture. Surveys reveal, the average score in private schools was higher than in public schools, but did not exceed 40 in either subject. The average score in Punjab was the highest among the country’s regions but did not exceed 40 in either subject. Alif Ailaan published a report in 2017 on math and science of class four students averaged score of 43.3% in math, deduced that a majority of the students scored in geometry and computations very poorly.

Compounding the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education is gender discrimination and stereotyping prevalent in our sociological setup and social settings. Plante’s and Halai’s case studies have concurred on same opinion. The former showed,” girls’ math performance decreased as a function of their female teacher’s math anxiety whilst boys’ math performance remained unaffected”. While the latter found that teachers consider boys to be ‘better mathematicians’, arguing that boys are inherently better in math while girls are well behaved and work hard. She concluded that girls score lower than boys on standardised math tests. In another study of Hyde & Linn (2006), on the contrary inferred, “girls scored better in mathematics than that of boys”.

From these results we concur, there are no consistent findings that indicate either male or female is achieving high or low in mathematics. Notwithstanding when such stereotypes find their way into classroom practices, they are likely to be reflected in learning outcomes, to the detriment of girls. Importantly what teachers say and do, greatly influences the thinking, the actions and the aspirations of children. Some teachers are found inclined to beliefs and behaviours that reveal negative biases towards girls’ mathematical capabilities and keep positive expectations that boys perform better. Beware it is mean to call a girl an average!!

Like the obtuse triangle is always upset because it’s never right, no country has achieved gender parity in science or engineering. Here far fewer women complete PhDs than men. Surprisingly Karakoram International University (KIU) approximately or tends to nullify this trend. By going through its statistics on student enrolment under graduate and post-graduate programs in Physics and Math during 2007-2010, the female-male ratio-proportion is, if not above but equal. Should we at least expect the trend line gets reversed in favour of girls, with imposition of high expectations from girls of this region?

As to why there is such is double negativity-though a positive in math but very bad in English, in ways of huge gender disparities and discriminations, negative stereotypes, social and peer pressure, lack of encouragement, perceived marginalisation of women working in STEM fields? To identify and analyse these anomalies, dichotomy, discontinuity and parity elusiveness, some soul-searching case studies and novel theories have propped up for better understanding of issues at hand and devising means of redressals. Keeping hope alive, lets on any other good day to expound on few of such theories; leaky pipeline, looking glass self, gender socialisation and rational choice theories, associated with imbalances and lack of inclination of girls toward math education.

Tailpiece: This piece of writing has three parts; this is part-I, which takes into consideration, firstly significance of mathematics in daily life. Secondly social, cultural and systematic cause and consequence leading to girls lack of orientation toward science especially math education and finally some generally needed remedial measures has been proposed.

The writer hails from Ghizer, is a Mathematics teacher, teaching in an Overseas-Gulf State. She can be reached at

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