Nalini Joshi, President of the Australian Mathematics Society:
The international table of mathematics skills, the four-yearly Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, shows that our achievement scores in Year 8 mathematics have steadily declined since 1995. In the latest results in 2007, Britain and even the US, countries we used to beat, significantly outperformed Australian Year 8 students in mathematics. Unless we can stop the decline of well-trained mathematics teachers in our schools, this will continue.
The deepening tragedy of our education system is that this vicious cycle propagates itself. For years the numbers taking advanced or intermediate courses in Year 12 mathematics in Australian schools have steadily dwindled, and the students completing a major in mathematics at university has declined. As a proportion of total graduates, our universities now produce fewer than half as many graduates with qualifications in mathematics or statistics as other developed nations. The result is a decline in qualified maths teachers...
Students also face rising inequity in the current system. There are almost certainly differences in the public and private education systems. There has been a dramatic expansion in private mathematics coaching in Australia in recent years. Businesses offering tutoring or software for school students have proliferated across shopping centres over the past decade as parents have moved to supplement school education increasingly with private tuition in mathematics. The looming economic downturn means that a much smaller proportion of families will be able to afford this.
As a mathematician and a parent, I do not understand why Australians must tolerate an education system that is inferior to that in America or Britain. Nor do I understand why we should accept a growing disparity in access to mathematics education across our school system. All Australian children deserve qualified mathematics teachers. Yet in Australia, policy-makers have either ignored the problems or taken only fragmented steps and half-measures to address them.
Read the whole article for some half hearted measures that have been taken to improve maths education a little, eg. halving of HECS fees for University students enrolled in science and mathematics courses
At the beginning the author says:
Yet Australian school children are coming out of schools not knowing that doing a calculation with pencil and paper is the way to learn mathematics. While the federal Government is ploughing money into infrastructure, we are staring at the vista of shiny new classrooms and rows of laptops with no mathematics teachers.I agree that maths education is declining in Australia to an alarming and depressing extent but don't agree that there is only one way to fix it. The Australian will always advocate for a back to basics or traditional "pencil and paper" approach. Maths education could also be improved with innovative and creative approaches using laptops. However, improvement in either way does require teachers who understand maths and we are failing many students in that regard.
I am also wondering if it suits our ruling class to keep most of the population both mathematical ignorant and mathophobic. We currently seem to have a swathe of policies to do with economics and the environment that if exposed to a mathematically literate population would possibly be the subject of mass derision.
"He who refuses to do arithmetic is doomed to talk nonsense"
- John McCarthy: Progress and its Sustainability