Increasing the numbers of students studying advanced mathematics at senior school
The students in their final year of schooling in 2025 have already commenced their schooling. There is clear evidence that young people can be ‘turned off’ mathematics as early as the middle primary years. Certainly being ‘turned off’ mathematics (“I am no good at maths”, “Maths is only for the nerds and brainy kids”, “Maths is hard” and “The maths we learn isn’t relevant to me” etc.) reaches epidemic proportions in the junior secondary years.
Hence mathematics has an ‘image’ problem that requires action on several fronts:
- The amount of mathematics to be learnt – the AuC:M has gone some way to decreasing the overload in content that all students need to learn. However, the expectations in F-10 for those students on a pathway to taking advanced level courses in the senior years are largely unchanged, thanks to the inclusion of 10A content. In the senior years the advanced level courses have consistently been criticised for containing too much content, and much that is ‘too hard.’
- The nature of the mathematics to be learnt – very little (if any) of the mathematics content in the AuC:M draws from ‘contemporary’ mathematics and its uses. For example, in our digital world, codes and encryption cry out for inclusion in school mathematics. This and many other areas of mathematics can and should be treated appropriately in schools. Inclusion of these topics would help address the key issue of relevance and connection.
- The way mathematics is taught and learnt – through consistent good teaching, many students currently experience mathematics as an exciting, interesting and challenging subject. For others this is the case occasionally or not at all. The overcrowding of the curriculum clearly contributes to teachers resorting to teaching approaches best characterised as very traditional.
- Articulation of the importance of mathematics to many career options – many students and their parents recognise that mathematics is important for young peoples’ futures, but see that as being relevant for others, not for them/their child. Allied to this is that many adults represent the unhelpful view that they were “not good at mathematics” with the implication that it is acceptable for their children to be likewise.
Over the next 10 years, Australia needs to:
- Engage and enlist the support of parents, business and the wider community for urgent reform of mathematics in schools.
- Further reduce the amount of content in the mathematics curriculum for students on all post-school trajectories.
- Set targets for the inclusion of new content drawn from contemporary mathematics and its uses through further reductions in the amount of currently included content. These changes to content will require a renegotiation of the entry expectations for STEM courses at universities and for some technical trades.
- Establish benchmarks for every student’s opportunity to learn mathematics, and have a positive experience learning mathematics:
- the commitment of the whole school to teach mathematics that is challenging and engaging
- time for learning mathematics
- access to, and expectations to use, technologies in their learning of mathematics
- a teacher who meets minimum standards for teaching mathematics at that level
- an accredited leader of mathematics in their school
- teachers with an allocation of a further 10% of their work time for accredited professional learning
- regular auditing of and reporting against these benchmarks in action at the individual and school level