Article by Tim Dodd, the Australian Financial Review
BHP Billiton will spend $22 million on lifting the maths performance of girls in schools and helping them into male-dominated science, technology and engineering careers.
BHP chief executive Andrew Mackenzie said on Tuesday that the money would fund the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute’s Choose Maths project, a five-year program to encourage girls to study maths and statistics.
Launching the Choose Maths program Mr Mackenzie, a geologist and chemist who worked as a research scientist before he entered business, said he benefited from the encouragement others gave him to study maths when he was growing up in the Scottish industrial town of Kirkintilloch.
“So I am a strong advocate of the opportunities that mathematics offers,” he said.
“We hope the Choose Maths program will help secure the pipeline of highly-qualified, female STEM [science, technology, engineering and maths] professionals and open the door to the rewarding careers and cultural pursuits that maths offers,” he said.
Last year 15 per cent of BHP’s senior leaders and 16 per cent of its senior managers were women, figures Mr Mackenzie said had doubled over the past four years.
“This year nearly half of our Australian graduate intake are women,” he said at the launch.
The Choose Maths program will give teachers professional development in maths education, help girls at school become more aware of careers which use maths, offer role-models and networking to young women, and establish the BHP Billiton awards to recognise teachers for their excellence in maths education.
Choose Maths program director Janine McIntosh said teacher professional development would be offered in 120 schools across Australia, concentrated on the ones where teachers lacked maths teaching skills. Ms McIntosh said that many primary school teachers were not confident in maths and 40 per cent of teachers teaching year 7-10 maths classes were not qualified to teach the subject.
“They are great teachers and they are fabulous at what they do but they just don’t have the content knowledge or expertise,” she said.
Australia’s maths education lags other developed countries with the percentage of male maths graduates from university at half the OECD average and, for female graduates, at one-third the OECD average. While 13 per cent of boys take advanced maths in their final year of high school, only seven per cent of girls do so.
“The low participation of girls and women in the study of the mathematical sciences and in the quantitative professions is a significant national social and economic challenge,” AMSI director Geoff Prince.
The funding for the Choose Maths program will come from the BHP Billiton Foundation which was set up in 2013 to help the company meet its target of investing 1 per cent of pre-tax profits (over a three year rolling average) in community programs.