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The Forum > Article Comments > The crisis in maths in Australia > Comments

The crisis in maths in Australia : Comments

By J Hyam Rubinstein, published 16/5/2006

The science of mathematics is facing a major skills shortage.

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Professor Rubinstein, the tocsin was sounded a few years ago with regard to our parlous understanding of mathematics. A few years back bookmakers operating at racecourses moved from displaying traditional odds to those put up by the TAB. What a joy it was to watch Eric Conlon, one of the bookmakers, write the betting ticket as the punter spat out the bet. For example, Eric's board might have shown a horse at 11/8 and the punter wanted to put $5 on the horse. Eric would have the ticket written almost before the punter had finished speaking. The reason for the change was that young punters couldn't work out the odds. How sad to think that a simple division problem became a Sisyphean task.
Posted by Sage, Tuesday, 16 May 2006 9:59:20 AM
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Our universities produce a lot of lawyers who add nothing to the national good. Lawyers cause escalating insurance costs, look what they done to public liability insurance. Their training seems based on hiding truth by manipulating language. Their litigation promoting culture is weakening our society.

Why donít we close some of the law schools and divert money to maths and science education where it will benefit us all. I think it is obscene that law graduates earn more than engineers and mathematicians. Law school is a soft ride compared to these courses
Posted by SILLE, Tuesday, 16 May 2006 6:07:49 PM
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The crisis is not in maths, but in our universities, being totally incapable of doing their job.
A few years ago, my daughter was one of 12 kids signed up for combined B Sc/ B Ed [physics major], with the Gold Coast campus of a large Uni. They all wanted to be maths/physics teachers.
Upon arival, they were told that, due to a problem with the physics professor, they would have to do environmental science [with a bunch of OP18s] instead. They found themselves doing high school, grade 10 maths, plus the gobble gook, that passes as science in these courses.
After attending only 10 lectures, she got 3 distinctions, the course was so onerous.
Five of them transferred to an inner city Uni, in july, where they at least got the course they signed for. They had however, missed 6 months of "real" maths, & were struggling, trying to catch up.
After 5 weeks of desperately trying to make contact with a maths tutor, & failing completely, three of them quit, rather than cop another 6 months Hex fees, for nothing.
Nothing is not quite correct. Having been screwed by 2 of our public institutions, she is now a very tough , & successful young lady. In fact, I will be suprised, if she does not make them pay for their incompetence, at some time in the future.
So, if you wish to see why there is a lack of maths students, & teachers, look no further than your own institutions
Posted by Hasbeen, Wednesday, 17 May 2006 12:57:08 AM
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As a former mathematics teacher I have read this article with great interest. As principal in my last two secondary schools I was also the most qualified mathematics teacher. It is a crying shame.

The fault for this problem lies with a number of initiatives that have taken place over the last 30 years. There has been a decline in the quest for strict academic excellence in the overall physical science / mathematics arena with teachers encouraged to go soft on correct use of grammer and spelling and not drill students on number combinations and tables. In addition there has been an emphasis on such things as "life skills" and other soft options.

In universities courses on all sorts of "fancy" matters such as "feminism" have diminished the importance of mathematrics and the physical sciences.

In Western Australia a new approach to Year 12 through Outcomes Based Education will see all courses of study considered of equal difficulty. That is, courses such as woodwork will be considered as equal for tertiary entrance purposes as courses that are based on Calculus or Physics. As a result there will be smaller proportions of students who elect to study these much more difficult subjects. This will add to an already unsatisfactory situation.

I have no idea what the answer is to the problem, but until we rid ourselves of systems such as Outcomes Based Education which devalue strict academic achievement, Australia will have to import most of its mathematics experts.
Posted by Sniggid, Wednesday, 17 May 2006 11:09:50 AM
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I'm sorry but his argument does not add up.
Posted by sneekeepete, Wednesday, 17 May 2006 5:24:46 PM
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On the criticism that Universities are pushing maths teachers and minor subjects, in general maths department, which appears to affect the standards of tertiary general mathematics, the comment has a credible point. Universities should know that in undergraduate studies, the actual fields in their integrity need to be upheld in their own right. Those that decide to move to maths teaching in high school should be encouraged into post graduate Bachelors or Master in Teaching, later down the track, with no fees, as encouragement. Those who want to continue in pure mathematics can then continue to do so with more scholarships to encourage them.
It is also true that we have a mathematics high school teacher shortage. This is a disaster, as maths is a base of intelligence.
In both problems, there is another issue in the mix. Many smart mathematics people, and teachers in general, are not valued in this country and are overworked and underpaid. Naturally, many emigrate to the UK, the US or Canada. The University of Sydney encourages them to do so. The brain drain continues.
Mathematics is a base line in intelligence. If this country values being smart, we need to reward smart people more before they abandon ship. Business and Government Departments need Mathematics specialists for sound corporate decisions. In other words, we are left with out own stupidity, the Universities encourage them to leave for better opportunities elsewhere, and we can't keep the smart people here.
Posted by saintfletcher, Wednesday, 17 May 2006 6:32:34 PM
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