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).

In an opinion piece “Access to mathematics is vital for equity” for Australasian Science, Jan Thomas writes on how shortages of mathematics teachers has led to lack of access for many students, particularly (but not exclusively) in rural and low-income areas, to a quality mathematics education.

The CSIRO has recently launched a “Mathematicians in Schools” initiative (as part of its broader “Scientists in Schools” program), to support applicants with a mathematical background who are interested in working with primary and secondary school teachers in the classroom.

In today’s Australian, Andrew Trounson reports that the G08 has launched a review into the declining state of maths at Australian schools and universities, headed by Gavin Brown, currently director of the forthcoming Royal Institution of Australia, and formerly the vice-chancellor at U. Sydney and head of the maths department at UNSW, among other positions. The focus will be on the lack of qualified mathematics teachers at the high school level, leading to high school graduates with an insufficient mathematical background for many types of professions.

[Update, June 4: See also this commentary by the Funneled Web.]

The acute shortage of trained maths teachers is finally beginning to get some attention in the national media, thanks in part to the NCMSstrategy paper mentioned in the previous post. From today’s Australian:

ADVANCED mathematics is disappearing from public school classrooms, leaving students able to learn only basic maths, because the few qualified teachers are being snapped up by the private sector.

The shortage of maths teachers will become more acute as fewer students continue maths at university, undermining the nation’s skills base in engineering, the sciences and technology, scientists warn.

“The inequitable access to quality mathematics education is a national disgrace,” the National Committee for the Mathematical Sciences says in a report calling for a national strategy to boost the discipline.

An estimated 40 per cent of senior school mathematics teachers do not have a maths major, the minimum needed to teach the subject to senior years, the committee believes. That is up from 30 per cent in 1999.

…

There is a lively discussion by readers following the article.

See also an opinion piece by Justine Ferrari today in the Australian entitled “Subject of shame: we suck at sums“, and a recent article by former mathematics lecturer Marty Ross in the Melbourne Age, entitled “Summing up a failure“.

The attached article appeared in the Sunday Telegraph yesterday on
01 March 2009. I have been advised that it is now time for all of us
concerned about mathematics education to write to our local Members of
Parliament.

A simple email will do and the following are two possible model letters:
“Dear X, I saw the attached article in the weekend paper. Can you please
tell me what steps the government is taking to deal with this? Yours
sincerely, Y.”
Or
“Dear X, I am very worried about what will happen to our school kids’
education when there are no more mathematics teachers. See attached
article. What will the government do to solve this problem? Sincerely, Y.”
For those not in NSW who wouldn’t get the Sunday Telegraph normally, you
could try another model:
“Dear X, A friend sent me the attached article from the Sunday Telegraph.
This is a national problem! What steps is the government taking to deal with
this? Hoping to hear from you, Y.”

The incoming president of the Australian Mathematical Society, Nalini Joshi, writes today in the Australian on the shortages of qualified mathematics teachers at the secondary level, and the concomitant decline in mathematics achievement levels of students.

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.)

Over at the Funneled Web, fellow contributor Peter Hall reports on the continued decline in the number of maths majors in Australian universities, and a related decline in the number of high school students taking advanced maths courses.

[Update, Dec 9: By coincidence, the 2007 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) on fourth and eighth grade mathematics ability was released today. According to the report, fourth grade achievement in Australian students has improved somewhat (just behind the United States, Germany, and Denmark, and just ahead of Hungary, Italy, and Australia), but eighth grade achievement has slipped (below Armenia, but above Sweden).]