Mathematics participation is falling, but its future is bright

Mathematics participation is falling, but its future is bright

Across Australia, efforts are underway to boost female participation in STEM education, however recent studies show that in subjects like maths, participation continues to decline at an alarming rate.

New research from the Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers (AAMT) shows the percentage of students who take higher mathematics classes such as calculus has fallen below 10% for the first time, with only one-third of those students being female. 

Speaking to ABC Breakfast over the weekend, AAMT CEO, Allan Dougan, said despite some claims that maths is an outdated subject, it “continues to be the discipline of the future.”

“It’s fundamentally important in areas like medicine, economics, engineering, finance and technology,” Dougan said.

He went on to point out that while these industries have demonstrated enormous importance in the last two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, this period has seen the most significant drop in STEM participation in schools.

“The economic security of our country’s future depends on us having mathematically-competent young people finishing school and going on to mathematics-related subjects at a higher level,” he said.

Addressing the gender gap, Dougan raised concerns about female talent being lost at every stage of the mathematics and STEM pipeline, despite “no cognitive gender difference when it comes to mathematics and mathematics learning.”

Over the past 10 years Australia has introduced initiatives to address the gender gap in STEM. Dougan said that the development of CSIRO’s The Young Indigenous Women’s STEM Academy and the Australian Government’s The Girls in STEM Toolkit – established by Education Services Australia (ESA) – helps to encourage girls in STEM and to show them that it’s not a ‘male’ subject.

“We need to encourage more girls to participate in science, technology and mathematics today, so that they can be at the forefront of our STEM industries tomorrow,” ESA CEO, Andrew Smith, said.

“The Girls in STEM Toolkit gives teachers and parents the tools to help girls “gravitate toward – and be supported in – STEM subjects in school”.

He said teachers can use the Classroom strategies for inclusive STEM learning environments to embed practical and effective steps in their classrooms to set girls on the pathway to STEM.

“These strategies help teachers to break down any gender barriers, empower girls in STEM through role-modelling, and ensure learning experiences connect STEM to the world around us,” he said.

“Despite the gender gap, we know that girls and women are equally capable in mathematics and broader STEM subjects It’s up to us as teachers and parents to ensure this translates to equal opportunity.”

This article an adapted version of an article written by Nicole Richardson from Education Services Australia and has been republished with permission.