There’s an interesting article over at the NYT that’s all about differences in maths performances between girls and boys. The discussion is around whether there are physiological male-female differences that account for better male performance in science & math subjects, or whether these can be explained through nurture or cultural factors.

As you may already know, I grew up in South Africa. There the cultural and “nurture” factors were far more evident — girls were positively discouraged from an early age to engage in science/math-related pursuits, with most teachers and parents making it quite clear that this wasn’t something they would be good at. The issue was particularly bad for the more traditional Afrikaner families, at least at my primary school.

This changed quite significantly, however, when I was lucky enough to attend an all-girls high school. Despite the (often quite repressive) conditioning that most of the girls had received from parents, teachers and relatives, in a single-sex setting they stopped dumbing themselves down to fit in with the low expectations and started prospering in the various mathematical and scientific subjects available. Much of the credit of course is due to our open-minded teachers and of course this didn’t suddenly endow everyone with talent with numbers, but the change was quite significant.

I find it interesting that even in first world countries where these factors are seemingly far more subtle, the effects are still being seen. It will be interesting to see how things develop further by the time my children will be attending school.