Tertiary computing course selection: The impact of mathematics anxiety on female decision making
AbstractIs mathematics anxiety contributing to the declining numbers of females enrolling in tertiary computing courses? Initial observation of enrolments in tertiary computing courses at an Australian university suggests a direct correlation between the number of females in a course and the prerequisite level of mathematics required at entry. A study involving over 550 female students in Australia and Singapore was undertaken to determine student perceptions of the importance of mathematics to computing and information technology degrees. All of the students were either studying a computing subject at secondary school or university and some were already enrolled in a computing degree. Results indicate that students studying computing at tertiary level in both countries believe that computing courses require good mathematical ability, while secondary school students express high levels of uncertainty when asked the same question. The majority of students surveyed believe that females and males are equal in mathematical ability, while thirty percent of the cohort from Singapore believes that males are more able than females in mathematical ability. This paper uses these responses, combined with observation and statistical data, to posit that females perceive a strong link between mathematical ability and success in computing courses. Consequently mathematics anxiety in females could be a contributing factor to their under-representation in tertiary computing courses. Computing and mathematics educators need to combine their efforts to encourage females into computing courses and dispel this anxiety.
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