A disturbing set of numbers

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.

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Maths trust calls for teaching shakeup

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.]

Maths majors in Australia in decline

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).]

National Curriculum in Mathematics

The National Curriculum Board has just initiated its public consultation period for its draft proposed curriculum on mathematics (concurrently with similar consultations on science, history, and English), as reported on recently in the Australian, the Courier-Mail, the Age, and elsewhere.  The draft, which is to be implemented in 2011, draws upon the National Declaration of Educational Goals for Young Australians, the National Numeracy Review discussed earlier on this blog, as well as the report of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel from the US.  Proposals include making maths a compulsory topic all the way to Year 12 (but offering a range of levels to take maths after Year 10), to encourage the use of computers and other digital technologies, to teach numeracy skills concurrently with more traditional mathematical topics, and avoid repetition or low-level activities that do not stimulate thought or inquiry.  On the other hand, the draft also notes the need to keep the curriculum simple and streamlined, with the key themes and topics being made clear to both teachers and students, and to avoid alienating a significant number of students with complexity; one can err by being too ambitious as well as by not being ambitious enough.

The consultation period ends at the end of Term 4 (which, I assume, means mid-December).

AMC and IOI results

The Australian Mathematics Trust has just announced the results of this year’s Australian Mathematics Competition, as well as the results of the Australian team in this year’s Informatics Olympiad, where the Aussie team picked up a gold, two silvers, and a bronze, their best showing to date there.  Congratulations to all participants for their efforts!

[Thanks to Peter Taylor for the news.]

National Numeracy Review

The Australian is reporting today that the National Numeracy Review, commissioned two years ago by the Council of Australian Governments, has finished its final report (a background paper to the review can be found here, and a discussion paper with terms of reference can be found here.  Here is AMSI’s submission to the review).  The report raises concerns that the minimum standards for maths and numeracy skills at the primary and high school levels are too low, and recommends that teachers devote more time to these topics than is currently required.

The Australian is also running a statement by the education minister, Julia Gillard, on the importance of increasing achievement levels in literacy and numeracy, as well as a dissenting opinion by Kevin Donnelly, who warns of the dangers of forcing teachers who are inexperienced with mathematics into teaching more maths and numeracy skills to students.

Coincidentally, a similar report has been released in the U.S. by the National Council on Teacher Quality, entitled “No common denominator: The Preparation of Elementary Teachers in Mathematics by America’s Education Schools“.  (See also a recent recommendations on maths education by the U.S. National Mathematics Advisory Panel.)

[Update, July 16: additional links added; thanks to Jan Thomas for the references.]

Put a little science in your life

There is an excellent op-ed piece by Brian Greene in the New York Times today entitled “Put a little science in your life“. It discusses the importance of science, not only in addressing the modern world’s challenges, but also in empowering individuals with a means of understanding the world around them.

By a random coincidence, I recently wrote a similar (but less eloquent) piece myself, as a short forward to the 2008 “World-wide day of science” project at the University of New South Wales. I am enclosing this forward below the fold.

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