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Spotlight on promoting maths for students

Pioneer: helping to stop the gender divide from multiplying

School can be great. But as a Year 12 student, I wanted to understand why 2019 saw the fewest women accepted to maths at university – in over a decade. And at A-Level, only 39% of math students were female. Why is this?

Turns out, a lot of girls have “maths anxiety” and could tend to downplay their abilities. They may lack self-confidence, role models and a community of like-minded individuals.

As the only girl in my year who definitely wants to study maths at university, I started researching math societies to join online… only to find that they weren’t specifically for maths or for girls, or were targeted at the undergraduate level – when I believe the key to creating change is to start early.

That’s why I set up Pioneer, a non-profit organisation which aims to encourage girls aged 11-18 to see that there’s more to maths than their textbook, through competitions, articles and events. I hope that this will therefore nurture their passion, giving them the confidence to pursue the subject at a higher level.

I discuss in more detail why I set up Pioneer on the podcast “It Starts with Action”, available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

Our progress

In the last two months since Pioneer’s launch, we have partnered with Girls in Data to hold 3 webinar series, engaging over 300 pupils across the UK in a work experience data challenge. The first was with Experian, a multinational consumer credit company, and the second with Zurich, one of the world’s leading insurance companies. Both challenges encouraged participants to draw insights from data to tackle real-world business problems, developing their mathematical, writing and communication skills.

We held our most recent challenge in partnership with the data communications company iVerbalize. This task involved analysing data to support students’ opinions on BLM, COVID-19 or home learning. In all 3 challenges, the top 3 students will have the opportunity to present their work to industry experts!

Furthermore, at the end of each challenge, each student receives feedback from the company and a work experience certificate. One 16-year-old performed so well in one of our challenges that Experian offered her a job after graduation! Our event was featured in the East Anglian Times and on the radio, demonstrating exactly what Pioneer aims to do – to provide incredible maths-related opportunities to as many girls as possible. I also spoke at a MEI conference where I presented to over 200 teachers about Pioneer’s mission and our data challenges with Girls in Data.

Other key highlights

I also recently held a competition for Year 7-11, where girls had to either write about an inspiring female mathematician, or discuss a maths problem and its solution. I loved seeing everyone’s enthusiasm and reading through their work, and will be publishing the winners’ articles on the website soon!

Another highlight was Pioneer’s film screening of Secrets of the Surface to celebrate Women in Maths Day. This is a documentary about the female mathematician who inspires me most – Maryam Mirzakhani, the first female winner of the Fields Medal. Her pure dedication and ability to see the beauty behind every difficulty is something I greatly admire.

What next?

Pioneer is running a summer school in partnership with Girls in Data, starting from the 28th July. I’m also hoping to run a national competition with the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications (IMA) after the summer holidays, as well as some in-person events next year.

Get involved

If you’re interested in these opportunities, please subscribe on the website to register your interest! I’m also looking for any volunteers who would like to join this project (sixth form or university maths students), so do get in touch if interested! By subscribing to Pioneer’s website, you’ll also stay updated on all future work experience opportunities as well as receive maths revision advice from top university students in my regular newsletters.

I hope Pioneer continues to help stop the gender divide from multiplying, and reaches even more students nationally – and hopefully one day, globally!

With thanks - this article was written by Joely To.

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