Model Math Learning Centre
  • 20 Jun 2024

It saddens us at Model Math to say, because we know how AWESOME maths is, but Maths Anxiety, a negative reaction to mathematics, is commonplace in classrooms all over the world.

And it is infectious in a way as it affects the performance of the entire class, according to the largest and most culturally diverse study to date from University of Western Ontario. This study shows that in about half of countries, the average level of maths anxiety within the same school or classroom predicts individual students’ maths achievement, independently of their own anxiety levels.

So what can be done to lower Maths Anxiety? Well, it’s important for teachers, parents and policymakers to take into account the context in which a child learns maths.

The negative reactions that Maths Anxiety causes can range from mild discomfort to intense dread with racing hearts, feeling sick and excess sweating. When severe, it can stop a child from excelling in maths, closing doors to careers in science, technology and engineering.

The study was backed up by another published in the National Academy of Sciences, in which Lau and colleagues analysed data from 1,175,515 students who participated in three large international studies of achievement. The finding revealed that countries that had higher levels of Maths Anxiety tended to achieve lower maths grades.

The pressure to succeed surprisingly plays a positive role. The more rigid or less accepting of uncertainty within a culture, the less likely students are to be affected by their peers. Children with maths anxiety prefer no surprises so a rigid classroom with little interaction, and where children work alone, suits them.

We now know that it is not an individual problem but is linked to the student’s confidence in their teacher, the teachers’ own confidence in their maths, and the amount of homework and parental involvement in completing it. It follows that in countries where Maths Anxiety is especially prevalent, such as in England, a different and, importantly, standardised approach to teaching and testing maths, with less stress on the teacher, parents and students, would yield better results.

Maths Anxiety is not necessarily linked to ability. A lot of children with Maths Anxiety have picked up their negative beliefs about maths from their parents or teachers or peers, and their belief in themselves when it comes to maths is often not justified. They could excel in maths given the right teaching methods and circumstances. A 2018 study found that 77% of children with high Maths Anxiety were normal to high achievers on curriculum maths tests.

Change your belief, change your world.

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