Slide rule: a new plan aims to reverse Australia’s maths decline
Mar 23, 2016 | News | by The Learning Press staff
An ambitious ten-year plan to tackle Australia’s poor maths capability has been launched by the federal Government.
It aims to help the nation meet future job needs and arrest a decline in numeracy expertise - identified through successive reports from the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment.
Developed by the National Committee for Mathematical Sciences, the plan states all science, engineering and commerce degrees should require students to pass at least mid-level Year 12 maths.
Other key recommendations include urgent professional development for out-of-field maths teachers, better focus on the recruitment and retention of qualified maths staff, and the creation of a new national maths research centre to link industry and research.
Professor Geoff Prince, director of the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute, says the nation needs to speedily address its “critical mathematical deficit”.
“At a time when demand for mathematicians and statisticians across many industries is going up, enrolments in school and university maths are going down,” he said.
“This needs our urgent attention.”
Sydney University recently announced that 62 of its science-based courses will now require students to pass maths at a minimum of intermediate level in Year 12.
Only 14 per cent of Australian university science courses currently list intermediate maths as a pre-requisite.
Over the past 20 years, the proportion of Australian students studying intermediate maths in Year 12 has fallen from about 27% to 19%, and the number studying advanced maths has fallen from about 14% to 10%.
The national committee’s chair, Professor Nalini Joshi, says improving the maths skills of the next generation is vital to Australia’s future.
“We are in the era of big data but what good is data without the ability to interpret and analyse it?” she said.
“We need people who have the skills to take that raw information and turn it into something useful.
“Maths underpins just about everything - from the technology in your smartphone to the banking and financial systems that support our economy to how we measure and predict our health.
“Maths is also the cornerstone of all scientific endeavour - so if we are training new scientists without a good understanding of maths, Australian science will soon be in trouble.”
Professor Prince says school education is the key to improving results in mathematical sciences.
“We know that 75 per cent of the fastest growing occupations will need science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills, and that maths is at the heart of this skill set,” he said.
“If we’re not preparing our teachers and students the way we should, Australia will be left behind by the rest of the world”.
The ten-year plan was developed in consultation with schools, universities, government agencies and industry.
It also looks to address the low participation of women and rural Australians in the mathematical sciences.
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