Action needed to curb maths teacher crisis – report warns

Action needed to curb maths teacher crisis – report warns

Greater transparency is needed to address Australia maths teacher crisis, a new report has warned.

The report, by the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute (AMSI), pointed to swelling secondary student numbers and a drought in mathematically qualified teachers across the country as two urgent issues requiring action.

Australian secondary student numbers are expected to soar by over 650,000 annually as universities struggle to attract mathematics graduates to teaching and little data on mathematics preparation in teaching qualifications is available.

A report released by AMSI last year revealed the problem is too large to be solved by attempting to increase the number of new graduate teachers alone.

‘Australian Secondary Mathematics Teacher Shortfalls: A Deepening Crisis’ warns isolated solutions such as initiatives to boost the flow of maths graduates into education will fall short of tackling an issue that has been worsening over three-decades.

AMSI director, professor Tim Brown, says urgent action is needed to set rigorous subject knowledge benchmarks in teacher qualifications, transparency of the status of Australia’s mathematically prepared teacher workforce and retraining for those already in the classroom.

“The Federal and state governments must prioritise the collection of subject-specific teacher qualification data to track workforce standards and inform planning,” Professor Brown said.

“The AMSI study is important in reminding Australia of this long-standing unsolved problem.”

When Professor Brown was president, the Council of Deans of Science released an important study by Kerrie-Lee Harris and Felicity Jensz in 2006 on the extent of out-of-field mathematics teaching. He said the public reaction was strong but lacked a successful follow-up.

AMSI schools teacher outreach manager and one of the paper’s authors, Michael O’Connor, warns recruitment of new teachers would have little effect without measures to strengthen the current workforce.

“It is critical any solution takes a long-term approach with focus on strengthening both new and existing teachers’ mathematical knowledge and confidence,” O’Connor said.

“AMSI released modelling last year that shows quick fixes to address out-of-field maths teaching will not be enough to address this issue,” he says.

Co-author and AMSI honorary senior fellow, Jan Thomas OAM, said the worsening crisis is a result of over three decades of inaction by Australian governments, both federal and state.

“This paper demonstrates the historical failures that have contributed to the current crisis in our classrooms,” Thomas said.

“The number of mathematically prepared teachers in Australian schools has been in decline since the 1980s. The mathematical community including AMSI has been calling for action for decades.”