Kate Owino: Kenyan Women Can Love Math Too

I have been thinking more about the issues Noah Smith and I raised in our column “There’s One Key Difference Between Kids Who Excel at Math and Those Who Don’t.” So I asked permission to publish a few more of the comments Noah and I received by email. Here is a note I liked from Kate Owino:

I’d like to thank Quartz and Profs. Kimball and Smith for the wonderful article on math capabilities in kids released on October 27th, 2013. Reading it reminded me of my personal relationship with mathematics, as a subject and as a life/job-related skill.

I was born and raised in Kenya, and here the attitude toward math takes on a sexist connotation in favor of male students. It’s rare to hear of a female student saying that she excelled in math not only for the sake of passing the exams and getting into a good school or university, but also because she LOVES the subject.

From my personal experience, I was one of a handful of students in secondary school who fell in the latter category. This has proved (to date) to be a slight challenge whenever the topic of attitude towards math arises in a discussion with my female friends - they talk about how poorly they performed especially in secondary school, to the point where it comes across like they’re actually proud of the grades they got (Cs and below). I cannot contribute to the self-mockery because I got As all the way to my final exam…and the same applies to Chemistry.

Reading about the criticism-to-work-harder approach employed by students in China reminded me of my mother’s toughness towards my performance in math. From the age of 8 she would literally slap my wrists if I worked sloppily at a sum, and it was worsened by my teachers’ constant comments in my report book about my propensity to make careless mistakes.

As I look back now I cannot help but be proud of my love for math (and the sciences in general), even though I ended up pursuing a different academic path - studied literature in my undergraduate, and currently work in web content management. I hope to find a way to help do away with that sexist attitude in schools in my country especially since, as it was indicated in the article, poor attitude toward math makes many people lose out on critical life skills and lucrative career paths.

Thanks once again for the wonderful article. Have a wonderful week!