Researchers out of the U.K. indicate that teachers and parents are among the many factors behind “math anxiety” in students.

The research team from the University of Cambridge interviewed more than 2,700 elementary and high school students in the U.K. and Italy who were exhibiting math anxiety in order to gain a deeper understanding of what contributes to the condition.

According to Mark H. Ashcraft, a professor at the University of Las Vegas who specializes in mathematical cognition, math anxiety is “a feeling of tension and anxiety that interferes with the manipulation of numbers and the solving of mathematical problems.” The severity of the feeling can range from mild tension all the way to a strong fear of math problems.

Researchers found a variety of factors that can contribute to a student’s math anxiety, including different teaching methods between teachers and parents, a difficult transition into high school, pressure from standardized testing and a hefty load of homework.

"Teachers, parents, brothers and sisters, and classmates can all play a role in shaping a child's math anxiety," Dr. Ros McLellan, one of the researchers, wrote in a news release. "Parents and teachers should also be mindful of how they may unwittingly contribute to a child's math anxiety.”

Researchers listed several recommendations for teachers and parents to help a student dealing with the problem, including being conscious of a student’s anxiety and how it can impact test scores, being conscious of how their own anxieties, and recognizing how gendered stereotypes can contribute to anxiety surrounding math.

"Our findings should be of real concern for educators,” said Dr. Denes Szucs, the study's lead author. “We should be tackling the problem of math anxiety now to enable these young people to stop feeling anxious about learning mathematics and give them the opportunity to flourish.”

Math anxiety appears to be a classroom issue around the globe. The 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment looked at students from 65 countries and found 33 per cent of 15 year olds reported feeling helpless when solving math problems.

In Ontario, the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) found in 2017 that less than half of all Grade 3 girls indicated they were good at math, compared to 62 per cent of boys.

Math anxiety does not equate to poor math skills, however. A 2018 study revealed that 77 per cent of children with high math anxiety had either normal or high performance on tests, which can lead to more problems.

"Because these children perform well at tests, their math anxiety is at high risk of going unnoticed by their teachers and parents, who may only look at performance but not at emotional factors," Dr. Amy Devine, one of the researchers in both the 2018 study and the current report.

“Their anxiety may keep these students away from (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields for life when in fact they would be perfectly able to perform well in these fields."

With a file from The Canadian Press