In the headlines
We all know the dismal facts and dire predictions.
The number of Australian students choosing to study maths in the senior years of high school and beyond is shrinking1. According to projections by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, employment is predicted to increase in professional, scientific and technical services by 12% and in health care by almost 16% over the next five years2. Meanwhile, the STEM pipeline of primary and secondary students, graduates and job seekers is declining3. This is ‘a major concern for industry,’ according to the Australian Industry Group’s CEO Innes Willox4.
The 2015 PISA results comparing the performance of students internationally showed that only 9% of Australian students demonstrated advanced knowledge of mathematics, compared to 41% in the top five performing countries5.
A 2017 study by Wienk6 reveals that the proportion of Year 12 students electing to study senior mathematics is now at a 20-year low.
This is also confirmed by NAPLAN, which in addition to showing a small decline in the overall number of students studying maths, reveals a more worrying trend of students selecting easier subjects in order to maximise their university entrance scores7.
Beneath such headlines are other worrying truths. The smaller percentage of girls, compared to boys, pursuing Advanced Maths and STEM careers8; the ongoing challenge of ensuring that merit is what predicts student success rather than socio-economic background9; the disaffection and underperformance of talented maths students and the loss of maths teachers to other professions due to the lack of support that would enable them to teach in ways they know are effective10. Our data shows that traditional ways of teaching maths will see an average of just 9% of students reaching or exceeding the expected curriculum standard for their year level11. This means that by the time these students enter Year 10, the vast majority are unprepared to continue their studies in maths related fields or to enter the workforce of the future.
In the classroom
Ask teachers and they’ll be the first to tell you that the solution to the STEM crisis, and lack of mathematical understanding, begins in the classroom. It is in the classroom where the promise of an equitable, more just future can be realised. Teachers come into the profession with their hopes high and ideals intact.
But for many, the first few years of teaching can be crushing.
Their time and energies consumed by marking assessments and endless photocopying to provide differentiated work to their students, while feeling the pressure to move them through the curriculum regardless of their readiness. This effort, combined with other pressures teachers deal with on a daily basis, can leave them feeling overwhelmed. The fact that up to 50% of new teachers leave the profession in their first 5 years12 comes as no surprise.
- Kennedy, J.P, Lyons, T, & Quinn, F 2014, ‘The continuing decline of science and mathematics enrolments in Australian high schools’, Teaching Science, vol. 60, no. 2, pp. 34-46.
- Department of Jobs and Small Business 2018, Australian jobs 2018, link
- Timms, M.J, Moyle, K, Weldon, P.R & Mitchell, P, 2018, Challenges in STEM learning in Australian schools: Literature and policy review, Australian Council for Educational Research,
- PRWire, n.d., Australian industry hamstrung by hi-tech skills shortage, link
- Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development 2016, PISA 2015 Results (Volume I): Excellence and Equity in Education, OECD Publishing, Paris, link
- Wienk, M 2017, Discipline Profile of the Mathematical Sciences, Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute, Melbourne, link
- Department of Education and Training 2018, Through growth to achievement: Report the Review to Achieve Educational Excellence, Australian Government, Australia, link
- Professionals Australia 2018, Gap Between Policy And Practice A Key Obstacle To Gender Equity In Stem, Professionals Australia,
- Melbourne Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development 2016, PISA 2015 Results (Volume I): Excellence and Equity in Education, OECD Publishing, Paris, link
- Gallant, A & Riley, P 2014, ‘Early career teacher attrition: new thoughts on an intractable problem’, Teacher Development, vol 18, no.4, pp.562-580
- Maths Pathway, projected levels for students before using the model
- Singhal, P 2017, ‘Why up to half of all Australian teachers are quitting within five years’, The Sydney Morning Herald, link