The current state of maths education in Australia… it’s not good. We’ve all heard about it, and the disappointing facts and dire predictions that come with it.
Among them is the declining number of Australian students choosing to study maths in their senior years of high school and the lack of STEM proficiency1.
This is a concern given that projections by the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that employment is predicted to increase in professional, scientific and technical services by 12% and health care by 16% in the next four years2. But the STEM pipeline of job seekers with the skills to take on these roles is declining across the board3. This is ‘a major concern for the industry’, according to the Australian Industry Group’s CEO Innes Wilox4.
The 2018 PISA results comparing the performance of students internationally showed that only 10% of Australian students demonstrated advanced knowledge of mathematics, compared to 44% in the top performing country5.
Beyond the headlines concerned with jobs and student performance are other worrying truths. The smaller percentage of girls, compared to boys pursuing Advanced Maths and STEM careers6; the ongoing challenge of ensuring that merit is what predicts student success, rather than socio-economic background7; the disaffection and underperformance of talented maths students; and the loss of maths teachers to other professions due to the lack of support8.
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 level. This means that by the time these students complete Year 10, the vast majority are underprepared to continue their studies in senior maths, pursue tertiary courses or further studies in related fields, or successfully enter the workforce.
What’s more concerning is that only 11% of students would reach a minimum of level 9 — the level of understanding needed for students to be fully numerate — by the end of their schooling.
- 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, <https://cica.org.au/wp-content/uploads/Australian-Jobs-2018.pdf>
- 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, Melbourne
- PRWire, n.d., Australian industry hamstrung by hi-tech skills shortage, <https://prwire.com.au/pr/35932/australian-industry-hamstrung-by-hi-tech-skills-shortage>
- Thomson, S, De Bortoli, L, Underwood, C & Schmid, M, 2019, ‘PISA 2018 in Brief I. Student performance’, Australian Centre for Educational Research <https://research.acer.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1036&context=ozpisa>
- 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
- Gallant, A & Riley, P 2014, ‘Early career teacher attrition: new thoughts on an intractable problem’, Teacher Development, vol 18, no.4, pp.562-580