Girls Don’t Have the “Math Sense”: How Secondary School Students Make Sense of STEM Related Subject Choice

Anita Kit Wa Chan, Adam Cheung

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference paperpeer-review


In the past two decades, despite their improved access to education, women remain under- represented in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). According to UNESCO (2017, pp. 18-20), between 2014 and 2016, the global average enrolment figures of female university students in the fields of “information and communication technologies” and “engineering, manufacturing and construction” constituted only 28% and 27% respectively. Similar situation can be found in Hong Kong. From 2011 to 2017, females have been the minorities in programmes of ‘sciences’ and ‘engineering and technology’, standing at around 35% to 39% and 29% to 33% respectively.

Studies have identified various factors contributing to women’s under-representation in STEM. Barriers identified include the alignment of science culture and curriculum with masculinity (Archer, et al., 2016), the identity tensions for young girls when they do science (Faulkner, 2007; Gonsalves 2014), teachers’ bias (Carlone, 2003; Warrington and Younger, 2000), and lack of science capital (Francis, et al., 2017) This paper contributes to the current discussion by examining secondary school students’ narratives towards their STEM choice.

We conducted eight focus group interviews (N=56), comprising female and male students who have chosen more or less STEM subjects in their Diploma of Secondary School Examination (DSE, which is a public examination leading to university admission). Our findings indicate that some prominent gendered beliefs prevail amongst Hong Kong students, including “boys are more sensible whereas girls are more sensitive”; “only boys are endowed with math sense – the natural ability to do math”; “girls only work hard but have no math sense”; and “girls that are good at math are exceptional or abnormal”. These gender stereotypical and male-dominated beliefs are particularly damaging to female students, as they undermine their self-efficacy and learner-identities.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 3 Dec 2020
EventInternational Conference on Gender, Language and Education, ICGLE 2020 - Online
Duration: 2 Dec 20204 Dec 2020


ConferenceInternational Conference on Gender, Language and Education, ICGLE 2020
Internet address


Dive into the research topics of 'Girls Don’t Have the “Math Sense”: How Secondary School Students Make Sense of STEM Related Subject Choice'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this