Subject complexity and Difficulty
Several research papers have reported students have expressed perceived learning difficulties in understanding mathematics at the KS4 level. It has also been suggested that the major cause of poor take-up and acceptability is that students do not feel that they are good enough which was reported by Nardi and Steward (2003). Matthews and Pepper (2005) demonstrated that students perception of mathematics as difficult was created by information gathered from older students and even teachers. Similarly, Kyriacou and Goulding (2006) showed students are influenced by the views held by family and friends and social expectations. Some students were also reported by Matthews and Pepper (2005) as suffering from a lack of confidence in the subject. It is thought of as part of a larger problem (Hannula 2002, Pietsch et al. 2003, Kyriacou Goulding 2006).
William & Ivey (2001) observed that students often adopt a certain defiant stance towards the subject of mathematics which later becomes the basis for future action, which in turn can then give additional strength or conviction towards forming either a positive or negative perspective. Thus, a student who does not develop a positive interest in mathematics at this stage may withdraw mentally and make less effort, which will lead to learning problems and lower achievement. Dweck (2000) is in support of this notion and stated that students have the tendency to attribute apparently permanent characteristics either to themselves such as ‘I am not interested in maths’ or to the subject (‘maths is boring’). They further opined that Girls are most likely to form a laid-back view of their lack of ability in mathematics as an integral part of them.
In KS4 mathematics classroom, mathematics has been perceived as tedious, with too much individual work and rote learning (). This problem has been attributed to a lack of emphasis on engaging and inspiring students. It is for this reason that teachers have attempted to make mathematics simpler by reducing it to simple set of rules but the idea failed to enhance proper understanding of the basic and fundamental concepts. However, the study carried out by Matthews and Pepper (2005) suggested that teaching methods were also implicated as part of the reason why students have problems with understanding mathematics.
Studies into gender disparity in the KS4 mathematics classroom have found that there has been a persistent gender gap in terms of mathematics participation in the classroom especially in England.
According to Kyriacou and Goulding (2006), Boys hold higher academic self-concepts than girls in relation to mathematics, which leads them to be more likely to specialise. It is thought that female students tend to experience more difficulties and suffer from low confidence and a negative overall view. Boys tend to continue because mathematics is more acceptable and Mendick (2006), the gender differences in participation as due to mathematics being identified with characteristics of masculinity.