Report recommends programs to boost high-level maths

Published 09 April 2008

maths.jpgA project report released yesterday by the Federal Minister for Education, Julia Gillard, recommends the establishment of support programs for senior school students capable of – but not achieving – high levels of competence in mathematics.

The two-year project was prompted by the national shortage of school-leavers with advanced mathematical competence aspiring to enter science-based professions such as engineering. It was conducted by the National Centre of Science, ICT and Mathematics Education for Rural and Regional Australia (SiMERR) based at the University of New England, in collaboration with the Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers.

“We need ‘second-chance’ programs to help capable maths students develop the skills they need to pass through the successive ‘gates’ on the way to high-level achievement in the Higher School Certificate,” said the Director of SiMERR, Professor John Pegg.

The project, funded by the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, sought answers to the question: “Why is it that capable students are not choosing to take higher-level mathematics in the senior years of schooling?” The researchers, led by SiMERR Research Fellow Dr Greg McPhan, conducted and analysed online surveys of students, mathematics teachers and careers advisers. “Our findings highlight – among other things – the need for students to become engaged with mathematics in their junior secondary years,” Dr McPhan said.

At the moment, more than a quarter of Australia’s junior secondary mathematics teachers have not completed as much as one year of university study in mathematics, and “it’s often difficult for these teachers to inspire their students,” Professor Pegg said. The report, titled Maths? Why Not?, recommends that there should be “a range of incentives” to encourage mathematics graduates into primary and secondary mathematics teaching.

It identifies significant factors that influence students’ decisions not to progress to higher-level mathematics. These include their experience of junior secondary mathematics, their perception of how good they are at mathematics, their understanding of career paths associated with higher-level mathematics, and the greater appeal of less demanding subjects.

In releasing the report, Minister Gillard said: “To ensure Australia’s productivity and competitiveness in the global knowledge economy, this trend must be reversed. We must ensure that an interest in maths is inspired in our youth who will provide the skills vital for our nation’s future wellbeing.”

One of the recurring responses elicited by the survey concerned “syllabus and curriculum frameworks that contain so much content that they do not leave sufficient time for the consolidation of understanding and knowledge”. Minister Gillard said that the Government’s new National Curriculum Board would “play a key role” in responding to this finding.