AMSI: Equip Science Teachers or Risk Maths Deficit

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Science, in particular biology teachers, should be offered career incentives to take additional mathematics training to reduce out-of-field teaching.

The Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute’s (AMSI) recommendation follows today’s release of Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) data on mathematics, science and literacy outcomes in 15 Year olds from 70 countries, showing Australia has slipped placing equal 20th globally.

With more than 26 per cent of the nation’s teachers of Year 7 to 10 mathematics under equipped, AMSI’s plan would see eligible science teachers undertake additional tertiary training in both content and pedagogy. An inbuilt requirement to remain at their current schools, many in regional and disadvantaged areas, for three years after completion would ensure skilled maths teachers remained where they are needed most.

“Up-skilling those already on-the-ground to equip them with the understanding and confidence to teach mathematics while retaining them in high need schools, offers greater benefit to learning outcomes,” says AMSI Director, Professor Prince.

In particular, the plan would target biology teachers who are in high supply but have little mathematical background. With mathematics and statistics taking a key role in biological discovery, particularly through data science, building these linkages is essential.

“Stronger linkages would both highlight real-world application of mathematics and bring school-based biological sciences into the 21st Century,” says Professor Prince.

Earlier this year, AMSI released its report card on Year 12 mathematics participation. In a continuation of an almost 30 year trend, advanced mathematics participation has fallen by nine per cent and intermediate by 12 per cent since 2006.

With 75 per cent of students surveyed for PISA completing Year 10 in 2015, this trend is unlikely to improve any time soon.

“These students are being lost from the mathematical pipeline with few likely to pursue mathematics at a level that equips them for further study and participation in growth employment areas demanding STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics),” says Professor Prince.

Performance inequality, also highlighted in recent TIMSS 2015 reporting, poses a serious threat. Australia risks leaving behind a significant proportion of the population who will be ill-equipped to engage meaningfully with the workforce and other facets of society.

“The widening gap between the proportion of high and low maths performers is particularly worrying. Mathematical literacy is essential to navigate so many areas of our lives, without this cultural and social asset future generations are at serious disadvantage,” says Professor Prince.

The outlook is also grim for Australian industry with the nation’s fastest growing employment areas requiring STEM. In particular National Innovation and Science Agenda (NISA) success requires a strong mathematical workforce.

“Research and Development is critical to Australia’s industry future, particularly as we seek to drive global innovation. Without a healthy mathematical workforce we will be forced to seek these skills internationally,” says Professor Prince.

For Interview:
Professor Geoff Prince, AMSI Director
Media Contact: Laura Watson
P: 04215 18733

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