Maths engagement hits record low

by Robert Ballantyne20 Sep 2016

The number of HSC students studying maths has plummeted to its lowest level in 50 years, figures show.

The figures, from the Board of Studies, Teaching and Educational Standards (BOSTES) NSW shows that in 2016, just 69.8% of HSC students are studying a maths subject – down from nearly 95% in 1986.

The decline is matched by similar falls in the relative popularity of other top 10 HSC subjects, including Biology and Languages.

For example, three languages – French, Latin and German – were in the top 15 most popular subjects in the 1967 HSC. French and German were in the top 15 in 1976, and French was the 14th most studied in 1986.

However, since then, no languages have been in the top 15.

The latest BOSTES figures come amid a raft of measures from governments and private industries which aim to boost student engagement in STEM education.

Around the country, maths is seen as a focal point of improving STEM outcomes, which have also been steadily declining. Recognising this trend, some states have invested in programs to help turn the tide.

The Victorian Government recently threw its support behind an early intervention program helping children develop their maths skills, providing it with a $542,000 grant.

In March, the Federal Government launched a new ten-year plan to improve students’ maths skills amid warnings Australia would “be left behind” if the slide continued.

Under the plan – developed by the National Committee for Mathematical Sciences – mid-level maths will be made compulsory for students pursuing science, engineering or commerce degrees.

While maths engagement among HSC students has fallen, Skilling Australia CEO, Nicholas Wyman, said there is another issue requiring attention – that there are too many children not reaching Year 12.

“For those students who are reaching this level, they’re not doing very well academically,” he told The Educator.

“We need to ask ‘whose fault is this?’ Schools need to look at the way deliver their curriculum and ask whether it is engaging and suitable for all students.”