Too many of our children are closing themselves off from math and science as early as kindergarten. There’s a great need for more Canadians, particularly women, to train for careers in the STEM fields and yet, at the same time, so many Canadian children — particularly girls — are convincing themselves that they simply do not have a “math brain”.

The myth of ability

“There is nothing more heartbreaking than a 9-year-old saying how she’s just not good enough,” says Genonia Petrea, Instructor with the international mathematics and reading program Kumon. Certainly different people excel at different things, but there is nothing about math that makes it inherently less approachable than other subjects. And children who learn a fear of math early are unlikely to ever overcome it.

In the best-selling book The Myth of Ability: Nurturing Mathematical Talent in Every Child, Canadian educator John Mighton looked at all the scientific and classroom evidence and concluded that the biggest factors in the development of mathematical ability were confidence and perseverance, not innate talent. And notably, there are no measurable differences in mathematical ability between male and female students. Anyone can learn to excel at math, Mighton tells us, if taught properly.

And by not teaching math properly, we are denying our children their dreams. “Ask a child what he wants to be when he grows up,” says Petrea, “and he will tell you a lot of careers that seem worlds away from the math classroom: photographer, jet pilot, animator, game designer. They all require math.”

Problem solving and independent learning

“There is no such thing as a math brain,” Brittain says succinctly. “Anybody can do it.”

More than that, a solid grounding in the fundamentals of mathematics teaches vital problem solving skills that are applicable to every area of adult life. “Mathematics develops general problem solving skills,” says Pamela Brittain, Outreach and Special Projects Coordinator for the Department of Mathematics at the University of Toronto, in partnership with the Canadian Mathematics Society. “It lets you look at a problem or situation and understand it from a logical perspective.” It is a key skill that enables self-learning and student success.

Children who lose their mathematical confidence early, however, are far less likely to develop these skills or pursue a STEM education. It is vital that we empower our children with the knowledge that no mathematical concept, from simple arithmetic through advanced calculus, is out of their reach.
Every child has the capability to explore, discover, and develop a thorough comprehension of math fundamentals. We simply must help our children along the way, by re-examining our public school curriculum for math programs, by taking part in after-school programs that focus on math and science, and most importantly by engendering self-confidence.

“There is no such thing as a math brain,” Brittain says succinctly. “Anybody can do it.”