MEDIA RELEASE: Maths decline endangers Australia’s future

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If Australia does not improve its standard of maths teaching our economy faces a bleak future according to Prof. Ian Chubb, Chief Scientist.

In a recent speech at the Mathematics of Planet Earth conference Prof. Chubb said Australia’s falling standards in this field means we will struggle to remain an internationally competitive economy into the future, as mathematics underpins innovations in modern economies.

“Mathematics is the only subject whose study consistently enhances performance across all fields of science,” Prof. Chubb said.

“The decline in maths is affecting every part of our community. Recent surveys suggest that only about one half of the community copes with the mathematics needed for everyday life.

“Males enrolling in maths degrees in Australia are about half the OECD average, for women it is a third of the OECD average.”
Prof. Chubb said that one of the causes of this decline is the shortage of, and support for, adequately trained maths teachers.

In 2007, 53 per cent of Year 7 to 10 maths teachers indicated they had at least three years tertiary education in maths, by 2010 it had dropped to 46 per cent. In the same period the number of Year 11 and 12 maths teachers with at least three years tertiary education in maths fell from 68 to 64 per cent.

Prof. Chubb said that in light of this shortage some principals have little choice but to to hire teachers to teach maths who were not expert in that area.  These teachers often have to resort to teaching directly from texts books, which causes students to become disengaged.

Fewer maths students today means even fewer inspiring maths teachers in the future. And so the downward trend continues.

“In a few weeks time I am going to present a National Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Strategy. For Australia to be economically competitive into the future, this needs to be a game changer,” Prof. Chubb said.

“This strategy must replenish the ranks of our mathematics teachers and re-engage students or we will lose our place in the world as innovators and our economy will suffer.

“The time for talking is over. We can no longer afford to be timid,” Prof. Chubb said.

AMSI Director Prof. Geoff Prince said AMSI fully supports the Chief Scientists position on these matters.

“All Australian children must be exposed to the varied work that mathematically capable professionals perform. And they deserve to have qualified maths teachers,” Prof. Prince said.

—————- ENDS —————-

Prof. Chubb’s speech

Maths of Planet Earth Australia: The Conference

 

For Interview: Professor Ian Chubb, Chief Scientist of Australia

Media Contact: Alexis Cooper M: 0410 029 407 E: alexis.cooper@chiefscientist.gov.au

For Interview: Professor Geoff Prince, Director AMSI

Media Contact: Stéphanie Pradier M: 0424 568 314 E: stephanie@amsi.org.au

The numbers on Australia’s decline in mathematics:

  • In 2010 the Australian Industry group said more than 75 per cent of employers responding to a survey reported that their businesses were effected by low levels of literacy and numeracy.
  • Brick laying apprentices within a regional TAFE showed that 75 per cent could not do basic arithmetic such as adding numbers with decimals or subtraction requiring ‘borrowings’. Of those apprentices, 80 per cent could not calculate the area of a rectangle, or the pay owed for working four and a half hours. And 20 per cent could not interpret millimetre measurements from a centimetre/imperial calibrated tape measure.
  • The number of graduates in mathematical science degrees is also about half the OECD average.
  • In 2006, The National Strategic Review of Mathematical Sciences research in Australia reported that Australian CEOs said that graduates from science, engineering and allied degrees did not have the necessary maths skills for the positions they applied for.

Further information

The following resources developed by AMSI provide general information about the state of mathematical sciences education and research in Australia:

Discipline Profile of the Mathematical Sciences 2013

Policy Measures in the National Interest[subscribe2]

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