Female elementary school teachers can pass on their anxiety and stereotypes about mathematics to female students, and girls who adopt this outlook perform worse at mathematics, research at the University of Chicago shows. In contrast, boys seem to be immune from their female teacher's phobia.
The findings come from a paper, “Female Teachers’ Math Anxiety Affects Girls’ Math Achievement,” published in the 25 January 2010 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The research was conducted in the USA where more than 90% of primary school teachers are women, and I suspect many countries have the same tradition that early years learning is left largely in the hands of women. That is not in itself a problem but it becomes one when so many bring their fears of mathematics and science into the classroom. After all, we're talking here about basic arithmetic and geometry, not calculus courses.
"The authors suggest that elementary teacher preparation programs could be strengthened by requiring more mathematics preparation for teachers and by addressing their issues of math attitudes and anxiety." My own solution would be slightly different. I think a modern school system should finally do away with the view that primary teachers are like nannies with a whiteboard. The idea that one teacher can effectively teach everything merely because the level is low and the children young is completely false. As this study shows, individual teachers have their preferences and few primary teachers do an adequate job of teaching mathematics and the sciences. Those that are good at teaching the sciences should become 'primary science teachers'. Primary schools will often have specialist teachers in subjects such as music, art and sport. I think the solution is to split primary teaching into the sciences and the humanities. Then teachers will convey their enthusiasm and not inflict their prejudices onto their students.
To see what happens when girls are not fed false stereotypes, at the last college in the UK I taught the advanced mathematics and physics classes had an almost 50-50 split between male and female students. Brains are not governed by gender.