‘Urgent attention’ needed on maths deficit

The Federal Government has launched a new ten-year plan to improve students’ maths skills amid warnings Australia will be left behind if the slide continues.

Under the plan – developed by the National Committee for Mathematical Sciences – mid-level maths will be made compulsory for students pursuing science, engineering or commerce degrees.

National Committee member and director of the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute, professor Geoff Prince, said the plan was developed to outline the challenges and opportunities for the future of maths in Australia.

“This plan is a clear vision for governments, universities and industry to shape mathematical sciences over the next 10 years, starting now. Fundamental to that vision is education,” he said, adding maths was “at the heart” of the STEM skills set.

“At a time when demand for mathematicians and statisticians across many industries was increasing, enrolments in school and university maths are going down.

“This critical mathematical deficit needs our urgent attention.”

The plan outlines a dozen key recommendations, including increasing professional development for out-of-field maths teachers and a new national mathematics research centre to link industry and research.

Currently, only 14% of universities require science students to have studied intermediate mathematics in Year 12.

Professor Nalini Joshi, chair of the National Committee, questioned the effectiveness of ‘big data’ in the absence of the ability to interpret and analyse it.

“We are in the era of big data but what good is data without the ability to interpret and analyse it? We need people who have the skills to take that raw information and turn it into something useful,” she said.

“Maths underpins just about everything – from the technology in your smartphone to the banking and financial systems that support our economy to how we measure and predict our health.

“Maths is also the cornerstone of all scientific endeavour – so if we are training new scientists without a good understanding of maths, Australian science will soon be in trouble.”

The ten-year plan was developed after extensive consultation with mathematical scientists in schools, universities, government agencies and industry.