Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Make Maths Mandatory and We’ll Improve our International Education Rankings

Math Mania
Math Mania (Photo credit: University of the Fraser Valley)
by Dr Rachel Wilson, Senior Lecturer - Research Methodology / Educational Assessment & Evaluation at University of Sydney, The Conversation: http://theconversation.edu.au

Australia is not doing well in the international literacy and numeracy attainment rankings and many rightly point out the funding issues, clearly identified in the Gonski Review, as central contributing factors.

Funding is a critical issue and the complexity of our schooling system funding does set us apart in international studies of schooling.

However, if, as a parent or student, you’ve hmmphed at the news media and thought it’s not what you spend but how you spend it, you are also right.

Here’s one simple example of what can be done.

Make maths mandatory. Australia is quite possibly the only developed nation on the planet that does not mandate maths study for high-school graduation. Surprising?

For most education systems a maths requirement is assumed. Yes, in the UK is it not a requirement for A-levels but it is required for the equivalent of Australia’s year 11 at GCSE.

Across the USA and China it is a requirement for high school graduation, as it is in high attaining countries like Finland, South Korea and Singapore.

Maths should not be optional

Many young Australians will not have studied maths to year 12 level. It is not a requirement in New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia; although it is compulsory in SA, and to a small extent in Queensland and the Northern Territory.

In New South Wales the requirement for HSC maths or science study was removed in 2001; since then there has been a dramatic drop in maths with one quarter of students completing the HSC without maths. Many of these students have gone on to university and to teaching careers.

While there is a requirement for New South Wales primary teachers to complete general maths, many early childhood and secondary teachers are maths-free - yet expected to teach numeracy. Early childhood centres with an emphasis on the development of maths, through play, show better child outcomes overall.

But many future teachers will disengage from the subject and because of a maths phobia that prevents them from using maths in their teaching. Thus some of the new generation of teachers may unwittingly set up a viscous circle of diminishing numeracy skills within our society.

The National Numeracy Review reported dramatic drops in national participation in maths since 1995 but the issue is yet to be addressed. As a nation, how can we value numeracy, and worry over international performance, if we are sending messages to students and teachers that maths is an optional element of education?

In this information age, deterioration in numeracy will pervade education, producing teachers who find it difficult to engage with technology and with educational data.

By contrast, highly numerate countries, such as South Korea, are making rapid advances in education across curriculum areas because teachers have high levels of numeracy and scientific skills with which to organise, analyse and improve their teaching.

I am not saying that all teachers need to know calculus. Rather, they should be confident in the maths curriculum of the levels that they teach and comfortable in dealing with quantitative assessment data. In one study only one third of primary education students could attain 90% or above on Year 7 numeracy tests without further instruction.

To read further, go to: http://theconversation.edu.au/make-maths-mandatory-and-well-improve-our-international-education-rankings-11663?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Latest+from+The+Conversation+for+22+January+2013&utm_content=Latest+from+The+Conversation+for+22+January+2013+CID_5c10b48e29665269aaa7c5c8e90ab951&utm_source=campaign_monitor&utm_term=Make%20maths%20mandatory%20and%20well%20improve%20our%20international%20education%20rankings
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