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High school study in math declining among prospective teachers

STEM educationHigh school study in math declining among prospective teachers

Published 17 February 2015

Math and science participation among New South Wales, Australia high school students has declined starkly over the past decade, which in turn is leading to fewer teachers with this crucial background for their work in schools, according to new research. “STEM is considered critical to all new economies. Yet, unlike many countries which show improving standards on international assessments of math and science, Australian 15 year olds’ scores have been declining since 2000,” said one of the researchers.

Math and science participation among New South Wales HSC students has declined starkly over the past decade, which in turn is leading to fewer teachers with this crucial background for their work in schools, according to new research.

University of Sydney researchers studied the math and science combination choices made by students in the New South Wales HSC between 2001 and 2013 and published their findings in the International Journal of Innovation in Science and Mathematics Education.

A University of Sydney release reports that between 2001 and 2013 the proportion going on to study HSC without any math tripled. This tripling was also the case in those receiving Initial Teacher Education (ITE) university offers during this time, with growing numbers studying no math (4.8 to 15.6 percent), an increasing majority in general math (55.1 to 64.5 per cent), and a halving of two unit (30.6 to 14.2 percent) and extension courses (9.5 to 5.46 percent).

Not only are we seeing declines in math and science participation among high school students in general; we are seeing a steeper decline among those students going on to study to be teachers,” said Dr. Rachel Wilson, who co-authored the report with Honorary Associate Professor John Mack.

This is particularly concerning because it sets up a vicious cycle in which there is less and less engagement with maths in schools.”

Australia sits apart from most of the developed world in that post-16 mathematics and science education is elective. Despite the introduction of the national curriculum, which includes math curriculum for the final two years of high school (Years 11 and 12, ages 16-18 years), there is currently no mandating of math or science study for these years.

In most developed nations math is a mandatory requirement for high school graduation. If we are to halt the decline in math education in Australia it would be logical to start by introducing higher school certificate math as a requirement for all those students intending going on to a teaching career,” said Dr. Wilson.

The researchers write that the current system of choice in HSC study has unwittingly produced a system, which is dynamic and subject to a wide range of influences. These include high-stakes pressures, pragmatic choices regarding workload, parental pressures, variations in school provision, and a lack of university prerequisites. However, math is seen as an important foundation for all study in STEM — Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.

STEM is considered critical to all new economies. Yet, unlike many countries which show improving standards on international assessments of math and science, Australian 15 year olds’ scores have been declining since 2000,” said Dr. Wilson.

The role of teachers is key to building strength in Australian STEM education. While the NSW government has proposed numeracy assessment of final year teacher education students and prospective teachers are expected to be in the top 20 percent of the population in numeracy (and literacy), this approach will be pushing against the tide if those students have not basic math and numeracy skills from high school.”

— Read more in Jackie Nicholas et al., “Mathematics preparation for university: entry, pathways and impact on performance in first year science and mathematics subjects,” International Journal of Innovation in Science and Mathematics Education 23, no. 1(2015): 37-51

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