Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (College of Education)

Schools and Centres


First Supervisor

Dr Thuan Thai

Second Supervisor

Dr Linda Bellen


Researchers have been intrigued by the dichotomy of similar achievement levels between boys and girls but disparate mathematical attitudes, which show that girls are much less likely to enjoy or engage with mathematics or choose professions involving mathematics (Kyriacou & Goulding, 2006; Vale, 2008). Although studies have explored differences in boys' and girls' perceptions of their mathematical identity from age seven, there has not been research conducted on students as they begin school to see what gendered perceptions they bring to their mathematical learning. This study seeks to answer the question: How are girls’ and boys’ mathematical identities being informed as they begin school in Australia?

This study used a mixed-methods multiphase case study methodology and surveyed participants in three primary schools in Sydney, Australia. Kindergarten is the first formal year of school in New South Wales, Australia and children are aged between four - six years old. Participants in the study included 78 Kindergarten students (boys=39, girls=39), the Kindergarten cohort's parents (mothers=50, fathers=11) and the Kindergarten students’ teachers (n=7). A child-friendly adaptation of the Who and Mathematics instrument (Leder & Forgasz, 2000) was developed for this study and used to assess the children’s understandings of their mathematical identity and association with gender. Parents and teachers were surveyed using the Who and Mathematics instrument to determine correlations between parents’, teachers’ and children’s views. In addition, parents participated in a follow-up interview, which was used to determine themes from their responses. The children were then surveyed again at the end of the school year to see if their views had changed. Critical theory provided the theoretical framework for this research as a means of understanding what is and contrasting it with what should be. Thus, this enables the study’s aim to interrogate the potential inequalities surrounding Kindergarten students, specifically related to mathematics, with the intention of proposing interventions.

The results of this study showed that both boys and girls began school confident that their own gender would be successful at mathematics. This changed by the end of the year as girls became less confident in their mathematical aptitude compared to boys. Girls' mean response also changed from believing that mathematics would be important for their future job opportunities to believing that this would be more important for the boys. There was also some alignment between the children's views and the views of parents and teachers by the end of the year, which conformed to stereotypes. These results show that children's gendered beliefs about xvi | P a g e mathematical identity begin at an earlier age than previously reported. Children are absorbing and cultivating stereotypical gendered views from significant adults around them as early as the first year of school. The implications are that the early years of education must be understood to be a critical and formative time for the development of children’s mathematical learner identities. Equipping parents, teachers and schools with the tools needed to help all learners develop a healthy relationship with mathematics could prevent the onset of the ‘leaky pipeline’ of females disengaging with mathematics and mathematical careers.

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