Studying maths beyond GCSEs helps brain development

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Students who drop mathematics at the age of 16 have lower amounts of a brain chemical that is critical for brain and cognitive development, compared with those who continue maths, a study has found.

UK pupils are allowed to drop maths once they reach 16, unlike those in much of the rest of the world.

Researchers at the University of Oxford found that those who stopped maths after their GCSEs had less gamma-aminobutyric acid, a chemical which is crucial for brain plasticity, than counterparts who pursued maths post-16.

The reduction in the chemical, which works as a neurotransmitter, was found in a key area of the brain that supports maths, memory, learning, reasoning and problem solving ? and researchers warned it could put affected students at a disadvantage.

More than 130 students aged 14-18 underwent a brain scan and cognitive assessment, and were followed up 19 months later. According to the paper, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers were able to spot those who did or did not study maths post-16 based on concentrations of the brain chemical in each student.

14 June 2021

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