In a brief item for ABC news, Peter Taylor of the Australian Mathematics Trust notes declining enrolments in advanced mathematics in Australian schools and universities, and calls for an increased emphasis on problem-solving skills in maths classes in schools that go beyond the current curriculum.

Coincidentally, in the recent article “Is the sky still falling?” in the Notices of the American Mathematical Society, it was observed that maths enrollments in US colleges have grown modestly in the last ten years in absolute terms, but have declined substantially relative to total enrollments, possibly because in the US, enrollment in maths is tied to a large extent to enrollments in engineering, which has fluctuated quite a bit in recent years. (The study also recommends developing alternatives to the standard calculus courses as entry points to a maths program.)

[Thanks to Margaret Smith for the first link.]

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Melissa Tacy and Ingrid Chen, on 16 January, 2009 at 7:26 pm said:From the ABC article

“He says part of the decline is due to a lack of adequately trained teachers.

“The teachers who are adequately trained are fantastic teachers, but the problem we’ve got is that there are not enough of them,” he said.

“Many of the people who are teaching mathematics have actually been trained to teach something else – they’ve been retrained later on because of this shortage of maths teachers.””

This is a common theme whenever we talk about the state of high school maths, there are simply not enough trained teachers. Meanwhile many very well trained mathematicians are leaving academia because of a lack of jobs and/or because they are unwilling to hop from postdoc to postdoc for years before finding a permanent faculty job. It would be a good idea to look at getting some of these people into teaching. With another ANU graduate student, Ingrid Chen, I have put together a petition suggesting funding for joint school/university positions. We envision these positions as an alternate career path to the traditional academic path. Instead of research and teaching at a university level these positions would include a research component at a university and a teaching component at a high school. In addition to providing more trained maths teachers such positions would be useful in bridging the secondary/tertiary education gap. The petition statement is available at

http://schoolteachingresearchpetition.wordpress.com/2008/10/09/petition-statement/