‘Urgent attention’ needed on maths deficit

by Robert Ballantyne17 Mar 2016

The Federal Government has launched a new ten-year plan to improve students’ maths skills amid warnings Australia will be left behind if the slide continues.

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.

National Committee member and director of the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute, professor Geoff Prince, said the plan was developed to outline the challenges and opportunities for the future of maths in Australia.

“This plan is a clear vision for governments, universities and industry to shape mathematical sciences over the next 10 years, starting now. Fundamental to that vision is education,” he said, adding maths was “at the heart” of the STEM skills set.

“At a time when demand for mathematicians and statisticians across many industries was increasing, enrolments in school and university maths are going down.

“This critical mathematical deficit needs our urgent attention.”

The plan outlines a dozen key recommendations, including increasing professional development for out-of-field maths teachers and a new national mathematics research centre to link industry and research.

Currently, only 14% of universities require science students to have studied intermediate mathematics in Year 12.

Professor Nalini Joshi, chair of the National Committee, questioned the effectiveness of ‘big data’ in the absence of the ability to interpret and analyse it.

“We are in the era of big data but what good is data without the ability to interpret and analyse it? We need people who have the skills to take that raw information and turn it into something useful,” she said.

“Maths underpins just about everything – from the technology in your smartphone to the banking and financial systems that support our economy to how we measure and predict our health.

“Maths is also the cornerstone of all scientific endeavour – so if we are training new scientists without a good understanding of maths, Australian science will soon be in trouble.”

The ten-year plan was developed after extensive consultation with mathematical scientists in schools, universities, government agencies and industry.


  • by peter 17/03/2016 11:20:11 AM

    Amazing how long it takes for government to wake up. This has been going on for over 10 years with Maths C ( Applied Maths) not being a prerequisite for engineering degrees in Qld. Not only Should Maths B be a prerequisite but also Maths C for all engineering and Science degrees. The reason it has not been is simple..."bums on seats".
    If the Universities made both a prerequisite then they would have huge numbers of vacant seats in their degree programmes because no kids are taking these subjects at High School.

    There needs to be more of an incentive than I TE point to do Maths C. Thsi whole situation has been exacerbated by the ridiculous OP system. Why would kids want to do a really difficult subject like Maths C and get maybe a B or C when they can bludge through Biology and Get an A????

    Fix the system if you want to fix the outcomes

  • by Sundar 17/03/2016 12:56:38 PM

    Added to Peter's comments the dumbing down of undergraduate and postgraduate credentials offered by Australian universities got to stop. As a postgrad research student (who completed both primary and secondary education in Asia) I am horrified to see the downgrading of academic standards and rigor in the pursuit of marketing and financial goals. Secondly fixated on league tables (once again there is a marketing motive in this) universities engage in targeted improvement of areas which are not directly related to academic quality but so called student experience etc to pander to "academic tourists".

    Deliberate downgrading of intellectual pursuits in the long run will produce uninformed, anti-science, anti-intellectual, idiotic populace who will in turn make idiotic choices in their own lives and for the nation as a whole. Just look over to USA. Watch the videos made by Jay Leno called "Jay Walking" and you will recognise that what is happening in the US today was long time in the making.

    Lastly can we stop overplaying psychological concerns, potential impact on self esteem etc and recognize that a bit of hard work is not going to kill you or send you to the mental asylum.