Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Education Honours


School of Education


Faculty of Education

First Advisor

Nerida Ellerton


Throughout Australia and indeed in many parts of the world, there is a growing realisation that girls tend not to achieve their full potential at school, especially with regard to higher level mathematics units. Many girls limit their post-school options by choosing not to continue with mathematics when it ceases to be compulsory in Years 11 and 12. They also choose less difficult mathematics units and participate at a level below their potential. Much of the research has focused on gender differences in attitudes towards mathematics, and on participation and achievement in mathematics, but not on ethnic differences. The purpose of this study was to investigate and compare the attitudes of Vietnamese and non-Vietnamese senior secondary female students towards mathematics. The study examined the effect that students' internal belief system (confidence in learning mathematics, usefulness of mathematics and perceptions about whether everyone can do mathematics) had on their decision to participate in post-compulsory mathematics units. The study also examined the effect that the external influences of the girls' mothers, fathers and teachers had on their internal belief systems. All Vietnamese and non-Vietnamese girls from Years 11 and 12 of a Perth metropolitan Senior High School were invited to participate in the study. There were 39 non-Vietnamese respondents and 27 Vietnamese respondents representing 46% of the senior school female population. In the study, six scales of the Fennema-Shennan Mathematics Attitude Scales (Fennema & Sherman, 1976) were administered along with a personal data questionnaire. Each scale included an open-ended question. All scales were translated into Vietnamese for ease of use by the Vietnamese girls. Further data was collected via interviews with six students. The Vietnamese girls tended to find mathematics more useful and tended to be more confident in learning mathematics than the non-Vietnamese girls. The non-Vietnamese gills believed, very strongly that mathematical ability was independent of gender. The Vietnamese girls tended to perceive that their mothers had a more positive attitude towards them as learners of mathematics than did the non-Vietnamese girls. There was no statistically significant difference between the way the Vietnamese and the non-Vietnamese girls perceived their fathers' and teachers' attitudes towards the girls as learners of mathematics. Parents of both groups of girls were reported as offering encouragement and support for their daughters' participation in post-compulsory mathematics. The external influences impacted strongly on some of the components of the internal belief systems of both groups. Of the internal belief system components, the perceived usefulness of mathematics was the only variable which showed a statistically significant correlation with participation for the non· Vietnamese girls. None of the internal belief system components showed a statistically significant correlation with participation in mathematics for the Vietnamese girls. The participation rate for both Vietnamese and non-Vietnamese girls in higher levels of mathematics was very low and appropriate ways of encouraging more girls to participate in the highest level of mathematics need to be developed.