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Negative Attitudes Towards Mathematics

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Mathematics is the subject that dominates in almost each and every field of the individual’s activities in the present era. In this era of science and Technology, mathematics has permeated across the life of the humans in such a manner that, it is known to be every person’s everyday concern. It disciplines one’s mind, as well as, systematizes the reasoning and thoughts of an individual. Mathematics is the one of the most important subjects being studied in the school curriculum. Moreover, the mathematics’ study at the secondary level is the main stage of the foundation of Higher Education (Mahanta & Islam, n.d.). However, students’ attitudes towards learning mathematics vary dramatically. To some, mathematics is pointless and irrelevant and they will not bother with it if they can avoid it, while to others, mathematics is fascinating and a source of never-ending delight.  The attitude to mathematics largely determines the learning outcome (Goos, Stillman, & Vale, 2007). Hence, the main focus of this paper is to analyze the negative attitudes of the student’s towards mathematics. Further, will explore various aspects that influence the students’ attitude towards school mathematics, as well as, will also include the certain recommendations to overcome this negative attitude of the students.

Negative attitude towards mathematics

Mathematics is one of the subjects that has attained the status of being a compulsory and necessary subject for all the students up to the certain levels of the academics in about every country of the world. The requirement of the individuals for reckoning in day to day life has resulted in the change in one’s attitude towards Mathematics. Moreover, it has been found that the complexity of various factors, which can influence the performance in mathematics is the function of various interrelated variables that are associated with the students, their families, as well as, schools. Moreover, as per the student variables are concerned, various researchers have regarded the attitudes of the student as an important and the main factor in understanding, as well as, explaining the variability in the performance of the student in mathematics (Mata, Monteiro, & Peixoto, 2012). Many researches have shown a positive relationship between the students’ and their academic performance on the mathematics. The underachievement of the students’ in mathematics has not just become the concern for one particular country, but is one of the alarming global concern and issue over the years (Lawsha & Waheed, 2011). Hence,  it is very important to analyze the reason behind this negative attitude and what methods can be opted for overcoming this issue in the future.

Attitude of Secondary Students towards Mathematics

Mathematics is one of the most important subject in for attaining the millennium goals of the development. However, the studies have shown that the students’ performance in the mathematics subject, especially at the secondary school level has not been remarkable in most part and areas of the world. The knowledge of this subject is considered as the important tool in the present times. It is the tool, which can be utilized in our day to day life in overcoming difficulties that we face in our daily lives. Due to which mathematics is considered as the most important part of the school curriculum (Awofala, 2014). However, standard tests, as well as, evaluations showed the poor performance of the students in the mathematics especially in the secondary level. The studies have also shown that the secondary school students used to lack the ability for insightful learning, as well as, showed lower performance on the mathematics. Further, it was estimated that the attitudes of the secondary school students’ towards mathematics have been associated with the negative attitude and anxiety, which have been found to plague students due to various socioeconomic backgrounds.  Moreover, it  has been found that the public image of this subject is also labeling it  to be difficult, abstract, cold, theoretical, as well as, ultrarational subject, which also contributes towards the negative attitudes of the students (Olatunde, 2010). 


Personal reflection

The reason behind choosing this specific topic for my study is that during my teaching practice, I observed negative attitudes of the students towards mathematics. Due to which the students do not perform to the expected level. I also observed that these negative attitudes apart from restricting the good performance of the students also restrict them to opt for higher mathematics subjects for future study, which is not only affecting the particular country but has become the concern globally. Hence, factors must be studied that generates the feeling of negativity in the students towards the mathematics and should focus to eliminate them completely.  As cited by Napoleon that- “The progress and improvement of mathematics is linked to the prosperity of the state,” therefore, we must work on motivating the students, as well as, help in eliminating the negative attitudes of the student that they generally have for mathematics for betterment of the performance.  

Literature review

The key issues associated with the attitudes of the students’ towards mathematics are raised in the literature that involves the variety of factors that is responsible for the development of different types of students’ attitudes towards mathematics, the effect of their attitude on the students’ performance, and the implications for students and teachers.

As per the early studies conducted, the characterization of one’s attitude is typical of the social sciences, which sees the attitude towards mathematics to be the emotional disposition to the discipline, hence identifying the positive or negative attitude of the individual towards  mathematics to be the positive or negative emotional disposition. In the early period, some important findings and results have been found and obtained regarding the relationship between the attitude of the individual towards mathematics, and the gender differences, as well as, the choice of the individual towards the mathematical courses (Tran, 2012). However, in actuality, the research based on the attitude of the individual towards the mathematics failed to reach its main goal, i.e., there was no  clear correlation developed between the attitude of the individual towards the mathematics, as well as, the achievement of individual in the mathematics. Hence, it leads to the more study and research on the various factors responsible for the development of the attitudes of the individual towards this subject (Duedu, 2010).

In today's fast moving world and lives where individuals have to deal with the information that is generated from the calculators and computers to that of mental estimations associated with the daily purchases, the proficiency in mathematics is very much crucial. However, the research centering on the attitudes of the students toward mathematics has received alarming attention due to low performance in the subject (Perry & Todder, 2009).  Moreover, most of the studies revealed in comparison to boys, there is a lack of confidence in girls towards mathematics, had debilitating patterns of the causal attribution, used to perceive mathematics to be a male domain, as well as, were more anxious regarding mathematics. The studies also indicated that middle school, as well as, the  high school girls tend to possess positive attitudes towards school, however, have negative attitudes towards the mathematics study (Oppong, 2012).

Students’ attitudes to the subject can be positive or negative. These attitudes, whether positive or negative are constant, as well as, are the unchangeable beliefs that are acquired by the students due to their experiences. Studies have shown that the mathematical attitude of the students is one of the predictors of the student’s achievement in the study of mathematics (Moenikia & Zahed-Babelan, 2010). The emotional response of the student to a certain situation is found to be one of the main and important factors in the development of the attitude. In addition, the efficiency of the teacher, social-psychological environment of the classroom, as well as, the classroom’s  management and the organization have a huge impact on the students’ attitudes towards the mathematics (Quaye, 2014). Moreover, various studies have revealed that teaching methods, as well as, the  personality of the particular teacher tend to have a great influence on the development of the positive attitude of the students’ towards mathematics. While, on the other hand, the teachers having indifference to the students, as well as, the inability of the personal efforts of the teachers  in teaching the subject could hardly have students in the classes, and can lead to the development of the negative attitude (Erdem, 2009).

Nicolaidou and Philippou revealed that the negative attitudes of the students are caused due to frequent, as well as, repeated failures and problems faced while dealing with the tasks related to the mathematics and the development of the negative attitudes can become to be relatively permanent. As per these researchers, when students’ go to their school they generally possess the positive attitudes initially towards mathematics but when they progress the students’ attitudes turn to be less positive and tends to become negative frequently at the high school (Nicolaidou & Philippou, 2003). Kogce et al. studies showed significant differences in the attitudes of the students’ of younger and senior school towards mathematics with senior secondary graders possessing lower and negative attitudes towards the subject as compared to the elementary and low grade students. There are various other factors that can explain the differences in the attitudes of the students’ towards mathematics and to develop more negative attitudes with the increasing school grade, like the pressure on the students’ to perform excellently, uninteresting lessons, over demanding tasks, less positive behavior and attitudes on the teachers’ part (KöÄŸce, Yıldız, Aydın, & AltındaÄŸ, 2009).

As per Akey’s study, several aspects in relation to the school context like teacher support, interaction of the student with other students, as well as, the behavior and academic expectations of a teacher were found to be significantly associated with the attitudes, as well as, behaviors of the students towards the subject. The study has concluded that the environment of the class where students sees their teachers to be supportive promotes the feelings of confidence, and control in the ability of the students’ to succeed. The way in which the student will perceive the  characteristics of his/her teacher will affect the attitude of the student towards mathematics. Further, a significant relationship was identified between the learning environment, as well as, the  development of the attitude towards mathematics. Moreover, it was observed that the students having a higher perception of their learning environment, as well as, the greater positive perception of the teachers tend to possess more positive attitudes to this subject (Akey, 2006).

Advice to the teachers: The importance of positive attitudes, motivation, as well as, the engagement of the students in mathematics is very important. Various researchers have shown that the positive attitudes of the students’ towards a particular subject or area come from developing the interest, as well as, engaging the students in that subject. Moreover, developing interest in learning mathematics from the early age of the individual is very important, because by the time individuals reach their high schools they already have made implicit decisions about whether to continue or discontinue that subject in the high school. Hence, the examination of various factors that can affect the achievement of the students in the mathematics during their middle grades is very critical as in those years, students can contemplate, as well as, can negotiate future pathways (Singh, Granville, & Dika, 2010).

Hence, teachers must work to increase the positive attitude in the students and should focus on eliminating their negative attitudes towards the subject. This can be achieved by adopting following parameters.

To build confidence: The first step should be focused on building confidence in the students. It is of no surprise that the lack of confidence is the major factor faced by students’ that can lead to the development of  anxiety, and hence, negative attitudes towards mathematics. Moreover, the past negative experiences faced by the students with the mathematics can also lead to the development of the negative, as well as, the defeatist attitude. Therefore, to overcome this, teachers should focus on providing their students the regular exercises based on the confidence-building that looks to be challenging but enables all the students to perform well. The development of the confidence, as well as, self-efficacy in the students will decrease the anxiety and fear of the students, as they will feel more capable, as well as, motivated, thus, leading to the development of the positive attitude in them (Ifamuyiwa, 2010).

Strengthen basic skills of the students: To build the confidence in the students’ is closely linked to the strengthening of the basic numerical skills of the students’. Teachers must give opportunities to the students’ to practice, as well as, master essential skills that are required for the better performance of the students’ in the subject.  Hence, teachers must get their students to practice the mental maths, as well as, the basic maths skills on the regular basis from the middle grades only, that will develop the interest and positive attitude of the students towards the subject (Ifamuyiwa & Akinsola, 2008).

Various other strategies: The following suggestions from Dossel (1993) are useful strategies that can be adopted by the teachers when dealing with the students’ learning, as well as, mathematical work:

  • Provide each child with success experiences early on.
  • Draw attention to appropriate reasons for success, emphasizing attributions to effort, persistence and strategy as opposed to attributions of aptitude and native ability.
  • Evaluate students work and draw attention to instances of good thinking and partially correct answers.
  • Have students correct errors so that they learn how to do the work and that effort pays off.
  • With a difficult concept or problem, inform students of this fact, so it justifies the difficulty the student is experiencing.
  • Poor work of students can be assumed to be a sign of learned helplessness rather than an indication of laziness.

Hence, it is very important that teachers require to have appropriate perceptions, as well as, attributions towards the work of the students’ to change the response of the student to the failure,

and should not transfer their own anxieties about mathematics onto their students (Dossel, 1993). 



As per the different studies, it has been suggested that there is a strong relationship existing  between the motivation, as well as, the support associated variables with the different attitudes of the students’ towards the subject. Further, it has been estimated that the development of the negative attitude increases with the increasing grade of the students’ with less negative attitude in the middle school as compared to the students’ attitudes in the senior secondary school (Pepin, 2011). This change in the students’ attitude towards the learning with increasing grade can be associated with the motivation, which means that the decrease in the interest or negative attitudes towards mathematics could be linked with the overall decline of the intrinsic motivation, interest,  competence-related beliefs, as well as, task values, which occurs during adolescence. Moreover, it has been estimated that this decline in the learning is experienced by the students’ towards mathematics in particular (Moenikia & Zahed-Babelan, 2010). An additional explanation related to the decreased attitude can also be associated with the organization of the mathematics curriculum that tends to become more demanding and challenging as students progress through various grade levels, hence requiring increasing abstract levels of their understanding. Moreover, among the various variables that are being considered in the development of the attitudes it has been evidenced that the teacher support tends to show closer relationships towards the development of the attitudes of the students’ towards the subject. Hence, the teacher plays an important part in developing positive attitudes in the students’ towards mathematics (Mata, Monteiro, & Peixoto, 2012).  



Akey, T. (2006). School context, students attitudes and behavior and academic achievement: an exploratory analysis. Tech. Rep., MDRC.

Awofala, A. (2014). Examining Personalisation of Instruction, Attitudes toward and Achievement in Mathematics Word Problems among Nigerian Senior Secondary School Students. IJEMST, 2(4), 273.

Dossel, S. (1993). Maths anxiety. The Australian Mathematics Teacher, 49(1), 4-8.

Duedu, C. (2010). Attitudes of junior secondary school students in the Cape Coast Metropolitan area toward mathematics. Math. Conn., 7(1).

Erdem, A. (2009). Preservice teachers’ attitudes towards cooperative learning ın mathematics course.Procedia - Social And Behavioral Sciences, 1(1), 1668-1672.

Ifamuyiwa, A. (2010). The effect of behavioural objectives used as advance organizers on senior secondary students’ mathematics achievement. Math. Conn., 9(1).

Ifamuyiwa, S. & Akinsola, M. (2008). Improving senior secondary school students’ attitude towards mathematics through self and cooperative-instructional strategies. International Journal Of Mathematical Education In Science And Technology, 39(5), 569-585.

KöÄŸce, D., Yıldız, C., Aydın, M., & AltındaÄŸ, R. (2009). Examining elementary school students’ attitudes towards mathematics in terms of some variables. Procedia - Social And Behavioral Sciences, 1(1), 291-295.

Lawsha, M. & Waheed, H. (2011). Secondary Students’ Attitude towards Mathematics in a Selected School of Maldives. International Journal Of Humanities And Social Science, 1(15), 277-281.

Mahanta, S. & Islam, M. Attitude of Secondary Students towards Mathematics and its Relationship to Achievement in Mathematics. Int.J.Computer Technology & Applications, 3(2), 713-715.

Mata, M., Monteiro, V., & Peixoto, F. (2012). Attitudes towards Mathematics: Effects of Individual, Motivational, and Social Support Factors. Child Development Research, 2012, 1-10.

Moenikia, M. & Zahed-Babelan, A. (2010). A study of simple and multiple relations between mathematics attitude, academic motivation and intelligence quotient with mathematics achievement. Procedia - Social And Behavioral Sciences, 2(2), 1537-1542.

Nicolaidou, M. & Philippou, G. (2003). Attitudes towards mathematics, self-efficacy and achievement in problem solving. European Research In Mathematics Education, 3, 1-11.

Olatunde, Y. (2010). Class Size and Students’ Mathematics Achievement of Senior Secondary Schools in Southwestern Nigeria. The Social Sciences, 5(2), 108-112.

Oppong, K. (2012). Secondary Students' Attitudes towards Mathematics. Ife Psychologia, 20(1).

Pepin, B. (2011). Pupils’ attitudes towards mathematics: a comparative study of Norwegian and English secondary students. ZDM, 43(4), 535-546.

Perry, Z. & Todder, D. (2009). Change in senior medical students' attitudes towards the use of mathematical modelling as a means to improve research skills. Teaching Mathematics And Its Applications, 28(2), 88-100.

Quaye, J. (2014). Exploring students' attitudes towards mathematics and mathematical achievement in secondary schools in England: the role of social class, gender and ethnicity. Research In Mathematics Education, 17(1), 59-60.

Singh, K., Granville, M., & Dika, S. (2010). Mathematics and Science Achievement: Effects of Motivation, Interest, and Academic Engagement. The Journal Of Educational Research, 95(6), 323-332.

Tran, V. (2012). Predicting the Attitudes and Self-esteem of the Grade 9th Lower Secondary School Students Towards Mathematics from their Perceptions of the Classroom Learning Environment.World Journal Of Education, 2(4).


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