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      Interactive apps prevent gender discrepancies in early‐grade mathematics in a low‐income country in sub‐Sahara Africa

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          Globally, gender differences are reported in the early acquisition of reading and mathematics as girls tend to outperform boys in reading, whereas boys tend to outperform girls in mathematics. This can have long‐term impact resulting in an under‐representation of girls in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics subjects. Recent research suggests that sociocultural factors account for differences across genders in the acquisition of these foundational skills. In this study, we investigated whether a new technology‐based intervention, that included activities accessible to both boys and girls, can reduce gender differences from emerging during the early primary school years. The novel instructional method used in this study employed apps developed by onebillion© delivered individually through touch‐screen tablets. Over a series of experiments conducted in Malawi, a low‐income country in sub‐Sahara Africa, we found that when children were exposed to standard pedagogical practice typical gender differences emerged over the first grade (Experiment 1). In contrast, boys and girls learnt equally well with the new interactive apps designed to support the learning of mathematics (Experiment 2) and reading (Experiment 3). When implemented at the start of primary education, before significant gender discrepancies become established, this novel technology‐based intervention can prevent significant gender effects for mathematics. These results demonstrate that different instructional practices influence the emergence of gender disparities in early mathematics. Digital interventions can mitigate gender differences in countries where standard pedagogical instruction typically hinders girls from acquiring early mathematical skills at the same rate as boys.

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          Most cited references 27

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          Sex differences in intrinsic aptitude for mathematics and science?: a critical review.

          This article considers 3 claims that cognitive sex differences account for the differential representation of men and women in high-level careers in mathematics and science: (a) males are more focused on objects from the beginning of life and therefore are predisposed to better learning about mechanical systems; (b) males have a profile of spatial and numerical abilities producing greater aptitude for mathematics; and (c) males are more variable in their cognitive abilities and therefore predominate at the upper reaches of mathematical talent. Research on cognitive development in human infants, preschool children, and students at all levels fails to support these claims. Instead, it provides evidence that mathematical and scientific reasoning develop from a set of biologically based cognitive capacities that males and females share. These capacities lead men and women to develop equal talent for mathematics and science.
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            The Science of Sex Differences in Science and Mathematics.

            Amid ongoing public speculation about the reasons for sex differences in careers in science and mathematics, we present a consensus statement that is based on the best available scientific evidence. Sex differences in science and math achievement and ability are smaller for the mid-range of the abilities distribution than they are for those with the highest levels of achievement and ability. Males are more variable on most measures of quantitative and visuospatial ability, which necessarily results in more males at both high- and low-ability extremes; the reasons why males are often more variable remain elusive. Successful careers in math and science require many types of cognitive abilities. Females tend to excel in verbal abilities, with large differences between females and males found when assessments include writing samples. High-level achievement in science and math requires the ability to communicate effectively and comprehend abstract ideas, so the female advantage in writing should be helpful in all academic domains. Males outperform females on most measures of visuospatial abilities, which have been implicated as contributing to sex differences on standardized exams in mathematics and science. An evolutionary account of sex differences in mathematics and science supports the conclusion that, although sex differences in math and science performance have not directly evolved, they could be indirectly related to differences in interests and specific brain and cognitive systems. We review the brain basis for sex differences in science and mathematics, describe consistent effects, and identify numerous possible correlates. Experience alters brain structures and functioning, so causal statements about brain differences and success in math and science are circular. A wide range of sociocultural forces contribute to sex differences in mathematics and science achievement and ability-including the effects of family, neighborhood, peer, and school influences; training and experience; and cultural practices. We conclude that early experience, biological factors, educational policy, and cultural context affect the number of women and men who pursue advanced study in science and math and that these effects add and interact in complex ways. There are no single or simple answers to the complex questions about sex differences in science and mathematics.
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              Diversity. Culture, gender, and math.


                Author and article information

                Dev Sci
                Dev Sci
                Developmental Science
                John Wiley and Sons Inc. (Hoboken )
                23 June 2019
                September 2019
                : 22
                : 5 , Global Child Development ( doiID: 10.1111/desc.v22.5 )
                [ 1 ] School of Psychology University of Nottingham Nottingham UK
                [ 2 ] Chancellor College University of Malawi Zomba Malawi
                Author notes
                [* ] Correspondence

                Nicola Pitchford, School of Psychology, University of Nottingham, University Park, Nottingham, NG7 2RD, UK.

                Email: nicola.pitchford@

                © 2019 The Authors. Developmental Science Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

                This is an open access article under the terms of the License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

                Page count
                Figures: 3, Tables: 5, Pages: 14, Words: 10717
                Funded by: Voluntary Service Overseas
                Award ID: MWI-14/0019
                Special Issue Article
                Special Issue Articles
                Custom metadata
                September 2019
                Converter:WILEY_ML3GV2_TO_NLMPMC version:5.6.9 mode:remove_FC converted:01.10.2019

                Developmental biology

                tablet technology, education, gender inequity, mathematics, reading


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