Two recent articles in the Daily Telegraph, “Students in almost 60 percent of high schools taught by unqualified teachers” and “Mathematics skills out for the count“, highlight two key (and related) concerns in Australian mathematics education: the continuing shortages of skilled maths teachers in high schools (with one in five schools having at least one maths teacher without full qualifications, according to a recent Australian Education Union survey), and the long-term decline in enrollments in advanced maths classes (stabilising a bit in the last year or so, but still 15-25 percent below the numbers from a decade earlier).

As reported today on the Funneled Web, the Federal Minister for Education, Julia Gillard, has announced a $2 million grant to fund the “Improving Mathematics Education in Schools” project, an initiative run by AMSI in collaboration with industry and teachers to promote mathematics education and awareness of mathematics career opportunities, particularly in low-income areas.

The new director of the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute, Geoff Prince, has written an open letter to the Vice Chancellor and President of Victoria University, Elizabeth Harman, regarding the proposed severe cuts in the mathematics and statistics departments (from 8.5 FTE to 4.5 FTE) through targeted. (We posted about these cuts in a previous post.)

Concerted pressure of this type by the mathematical community can make a difference; strong protests over similar actions by the University of Southern Queensland resulted in a significant reduction in the staff cuts, and USQ afterwards hired several maths and stats faculty (including one who had they made redundant!) after they realised that the cuts that they did enact left them unable to fulfill their mathematical teaching obligations.

The letter is provided in full below the fold. (Reproduced with permission.)

Among this year’s Nobel Prize Laureates is the Australian-American molecular biologist Elizabeth Blackburn, currently at UC San Francisco, for her work with Carol Greider and Jack Szostak on their work on telomeres and their role in protecting chromosomes. In the US, Blackburn is perhaps best known for being controversially dismissed from President George W. Bush’s Council on Bioethics after expressing support for embryonic stem cell research.

The Canadian physicist Williard Boyle, who won one of this year’s three Nobel Prizes in Physics for his co-invention of the imaging semiconductor circuit with George Smith, commented recently about the increasing tendency of governments to impose bureaucratic constraints on scientific research:

Dr. Boyle, who won the award with former colleague George Smith, warned that managers need to give scientists leeway to come up with the kinds of transformative inventions that are too often stifled by paperwork and red tape.

What scientists face today is “almost disgraceful … The bureaucrats want to get a hold of the money and ask for business plans. Now do you think that George Smith and I ever wrote a business plan? Not at all,” Dr. Boyle, now 85 and retired, told a reporter Tuesday. “You don’t have time to do that kind of baloney.”

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