Factors That Determine Mathematics Related Career Choices Among Senior Secondary Schools

Mathematics Education Project Material

Factors That Determine Mathematics Related Career Choices Among Senior Secondary Schools

Chapter One


1.1 Background to the Study

Career development of both men and women consists of two areas: career choice and career adjustment (Betz, 1994). Career choice refers to subjective context of individual’s preferences, aspirations, images and intentions. Career adjustment on the other hand, refers to objective context of societal and economic conditions and sociological factors such as family and education. Both, subjective and objective contexts determine an individual career choice (Schreunder and Theron, 1997). This means that career choice is influenced by multiple factors including individual and society. According to Bandura et al. (2001) the individual undertaking the process of career choice is influenced by the context in which they live in.

This entails that career choice does not emanate only from individual, but is also a social phenomenon. Therefore to have the female student going into science, technology, engineering and mathematics is shaped by individual aptitude, but most importantly can be shaped by teachers who may take a role of counselling and to monitor her progress towards undertaking science related subjects and later lead her to science careers. Historically, men were expected to work while women were expected to be homemakers. Work was considered to be a career while homemaking was not, and therefore a carrier to women was not an issue of concern to anybody. However, with the societal changes, even women became important players in the world of work and therefore the issue of career choice among them gained more strength, although it was to be developed basing on the side of men that had already been recognized as workers and career holders (Brown, Brook and Associates, 1990).

Carrier development normally starts in schools where students learn about their interests, abilities, values, and aspirations. These interests and abilities are developed through subjects and fields choice. In secondary schools – in particular, students explore subjects and field options, and develop educational and career plan that outlines the occupational preparation required to pursue their career choice (Perry and VanZandt, 2006). On the side of female students, career development has been focused on art subjects such as language, history, music, which sometimes lead to clerical careers, while on the side of males, career development has been focused on mathematics and science related subjects such as basic and advance mathematics, Biology, Chemistry, Physics and technology leading to management, engineering and medicine careers. This career divide has raised the concerns of female students’ interest in other fields such as science based and mathematics (Osborne et al., 2003), as well as males’ interest in arts and humanity fields. Thus the investigation of female students’ attitudes towards studying science has been a substantive feature of the work of the science education research community for a time (Osborne et al., 2003).

Mathematics is a key science for the future, through both its fundamental development and its enabling role for science, engineering and technology. This is illustrated by dramatic advances in communications, bioinformatics, the understanding of uncertainty and dealing with large data sets (Lemaire, 2003). The former Director of the Division of Mathematical Sciences at the USA National Science Foundation, Prof. Philippe Tondeur, has observed that the 21st century is going to witness greater opportunities for mathematical sciences. Mathematical thought and concepts will become the primary navigational tools in the data driven world (Lemaire, 2003). As a result of the technological advancement in today’s societies, mathematical knowledge has become essential for the success of individuals and for the progress and security of nations.

For success in tertiary education and beyond, a strong foundation in secondary school mathematics is essential (Cappellari, Lucifora, & Pozzoli, 2008; Steinberg, Varua, & Yong, 2010). Despite the importance of mathematics in life and in the study of other science subjects, there has been a decline in the number of students enrolled in the tertiary mathematics courses in India as well as in western countries (Mishra, 2011; Smith, 2011). When capable students avoid the study of mathematics, it reduces their career options and thereby limits the nation’s resource base in science and technology (Hembree, 1990).

The researcher’s experience as a mathematics teacher brought her to this study. She has first-hand experience of students who described mathematics as a difficult, boring, abstract or uninteresting subject. Whether this view of mathematics was due to perceived difficulty of mathematics or students’ inability to do mathematics, hard work and effort brought about better achievement for many of them. This experience has led the researcher to consider factors that determine mathematics related career choices among senior secondary schools.

1.2 Statement of the Problem

Existing body of literature have revealed that scholars have only been reporting a bleak picture of female in science (Office of Science and Technology Policy, 2013; Hamilton at el (2010); and Ogutu, (2012). Some have explored government efforts toward gender balance in science Hamilton at el (2010). There are also studies that have reported the efforts to financially support female students interested in science subjects.

None of these scholars have dwelt on how female students are psychologically prepared and supported to take science subjects in primary or secondary schools. Despite the low enrolment of the female students on Mathematics and science subjects, there are few studies that have examined the causes of this, tracing it back to the family, school and classrooms. This study will fills this gap in the literature by assessing factors that determine mathematics related career choices among senior secondary schools.

1.3 Research Questions

This research will be carried out to answer the following research questions:

  1. What are the factors affecting senior secondary school students’ mathematic achievement?
  2. Is opportunity an important factor in determining the choice of career among secondary school students?
  3. What influence does personality has in career choosing among secondary school students?

1.4 Objectives of the Study

The aim of this research is to assess factors that determine mathematics related career choices among senior secondary schools in Nigeria.

However, the specific objectives of the study are:

  1. To evaluate the factors affecting senior secondary school students’ mathematic achievement.
  2. To determine if opportunity is an important factor in determining the choice of career among secondary school students.
  3. To examine the influence of personality has in career choosing among secondary school students.

1.5 Significance of the Study

Studying Mathematics and science subjects is necessary as the engineering and science industries are a vital element of the overall Tanzania economy and as per international research which indicated that (75%) of the fastest growing occupations require science skills and knowledge Becker and Park, (2011). Therefore, this study will help in guiding the academia and act as an incentive for conducting further research in the field. This research will also brings in knowledge needed for the institutions concerned to start thinking on how to set strategies for increasing the female mathematics and science students in secondary schools through colleges and universities.

1.6 Scope of the Study

It would have been ideal to stretch the scope of this study to cover more than ten schools in the chosen local government in Lagos State, but for the minimum resources available and time factor, the area of the study of this project is delimited to five schools under Yaba Local Government area in Lagos State.

1.7 Definitions of Terms

The following terms were used in the course of this study:

Career choice:

The broad opportunities that exist for lifelong vocations. These vocations are set out in a framework of strategies moving toward personal goals.


The complex physical factors that make up our surroundings and in turn act upon us. This include the forces of family, political, social and economic issues that both typical and non- typical students may deal with on a day- to- day basis.


In this study, it refers to those individual who are officially admitted and registered in the secondary and non- secondary school system as a full time candidates.

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