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More maths focus needed

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We’re not doing enough maths. It isn’t being taken up by senior high school students and it isn’t a pre-requisite for a lot of uni courses which always used to require it. The result is we don’t have enough properly trained maths teachers and professionals in maths intensive jobs.

What is needed is a cultural and attitudinal shift.

The Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute (AMSI) says Government response to this week’s Gonski 2.0 report, Through Growth to Achievement: Report of the Review to Achieve Education Excellence in Australian Schools, must consider the time and resources needed to tackle urgent issues around mathematics education.

Only 14% of universities require intermediate mathematics for entry into science and students can enter almost half Australia’s engineering degrees without a requirement for intermediate or higher mathematics.

“The current lack of university maths prerequisites is sending a worrying value message about the impact and need for mathematics to students, schools and parents,” says AMSI Director, Prof Geoff Prince.

Prof Prince said the report undersold this issue, as well as the difficulty in graduating qualified secondary maths teachers and the extent of out-of-field teaching. The Institute believes that it would take a considerable amount of time to turn around the current lack of interest in teaching amongst mathematics graduates.

At least 26% of Years 7–10 Maths classes are taught by an out-of-field teacher, a figure that almost doubles for remote regions, an issue, Prof Prince warns, will not be solved through graduate recruitment alone.

“Insufficient attention has been paid to the professional development of out-of-field teachers, an explicit recommendation put forward by the Institute in its submission to the review panel. It is critical to support student learning with adequate teacher content knowledge, an issue only partially addressed by the report,” he said.

AMSI supports greater transparency around relevant teacher qualifications to provide  overdue professional development and enhance workforce planning as recommended by the report.

“It is critical we understand the true extent and trends of out-of-field teaching; as the report identifies this is acute and endemic in regional and remote areas with mathematics teaching positions hardest to fill,” said Prof Prince.

AMSI also continues to call for action to tackle behavioural and cultural attitudes towards mathematics to strengthen student engagement. The Institute is being proactive with its Schools program, the Choose Maths project.

“If we want students to stick with mathematics, particularly girls, we need to tackle engagement barriers beyond the classroom. As well as deeper understanding of career pathways, this is essential to challenge community attitudes to mathematics and its value and impact,” says Prof Prince.


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