On Friday 19 June 2020, the Federal Government announced a reform of student university fees. The context for this reform is the changing economy and the workplace skills that will be needed in the future. The reform is intended to incentivise students to pursue courses of study that will align with job opportunities in tomorrow’s workplace.
In the proposed new fee structure, students will pay 62 per cent less to study Mathematics at tertiary level. This is a significant reduction of student fees that highlights the importance of Mathematics as a fundamental and pervasive discipline that underpins all areas of the economy. Graduates of Mathematics have a myriad of opportunities to work in an array of fields such as the sciences, research, information technology, industry, finance, data science, education and so on, where their skills are highly valued. The Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers (AAMT) highly commends the Federal Government for its recognition of the value of Mathematics and its commitment to Mathematics education.
Lauren Beams, President of AAMT, says ‘It is critical that all young people are numerate, with strong mathematical knowledge and the ability to use their skills confidently and in new and varied situations. This enables them to solve problems, work with data, conduct research and analysis, and so on. In our increasingly automated and data-driven workplaces, these abilities are not just wanted, they are expected. The Government is right to highlight mathematics as a discipline of the future’.
The Government has also reduced the student fees for education courses by 46 per cent to incentivise students to take up teaching careers. AAMT fully supports this initiative, which will help to attract more people into Mathematics education. Out of field teaching has long been of concern, as cited in the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute (AMSI) 2018 paper Crunching the numbers on out-of field teaching. The paper estimates that up to almost 40% of Year 7-10 mathematics courses may be taught by an out-of-field teacher. The reduction of fees for education courses is a strong step to try to rectify this issue. AAMT will continue to work with the Government to support Mathematics education in schools, which is the pipeline for our future social and economic success.
Esther Chia is a maths teacher at Henry Park Primary School in Singapore. She has just finished four days of teaching exchange and observation at Grange Primary School and Allenby Gardens Primary School in Adelaide as part of an international program run by the Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers.
Esther says ‘The Australian students are very engaged and collaborative learners. They show keen interest to learn. They participate actively during lessons by asking questions to clarify their doubts and sharing their knowledge with their peers. The teachers adapt their lessons to suit the needs of the students and encourage collaborative work through the group work assigned. The teachers are very encouraging and have very good rapport with their students’.
Waheeda is from Singapore’s South View Primary School. She concurs with Esther’s assessment of Australian maths teaching and compares this with what seems to be a more structured approach in Singapore. ‘Singapore maths teachers take reference from the Singapore Mathematics Curriculum at each year level. The focus is on mastery and problem solving. Singapore students are disciplined in solving maths problems and deriving the correct final answers. In order to ensure students remain focused and engaged, Singapore teachers place emphasis on ensuring that students are familiar with classroom routines’.
Lee Phui Jiun is also part of the visiting group. Jiun works at Raffles Institution, one of the top schools in Singapore. She spent four days in Glenunga International School and Adelaide High School. In her view the teachers and students work together in a positive environment. ‘In Singapore we have high expectations with our students in terms of procedural fluency in maths. We require them to show their methods and we place strong emphasis in rigour and practise to ensure all the students have grasped the concepts. In Australia teachers proactively experiment with technology and are advocates of collaborative and authentic learning. Students gain a broader but not necessarily deeper grasp of the curriculum’.
This week the results from the 2018 Pisa testing came out. Australia continues its seemingly calamitous decline in maths achievement in schools. In the table that ranks countries by their average score in maths, Australia has dropped from 19th position in 2012 to 25th in 2015 to 29th in 2018. In 2015, 19 countries performed significantly better than Australia. In 2018, 23 countries / economies performed significantly better. For the first time, Australia’s school students are performing at the OECD average. This is grim news for maths in Australia.
Why is it that the positive stories about maths teaching in Australia we are hearing from our Singaporean teachers are not backed up by data?
Admittedly, the schools that hosted the Singaporean maths teachers were recommended through the South Australian Department for Education’s Thinking Maths program. This means these particular schools and their teachers take their maths teaching seriously. This may not be indicative of practices across Australia.
There is also a cultural context. The Singaporean teachers tell us that most children there go to intensive tuition centres after school. Besides teachers, parents have high educational expectations of their children in an exam-driven education system. They deeply understand the success of Singapore as an economy is due to the industriousness of its people. Nobody, least of all parents, can afford to become complacent. This is a message that seems to get passed on from one generation to the next.
From an education perspective, teaching is a profession that is well regarded and well organised in Singapore. Teachers, in maths and other subjects, all use the same curriculum, methods and standards. There are subject leaders and master teachers who support teaching across clusters of schools. Expert teachers can advance in their careers to these senior positions without leaving their subject. All teachers are guaranteed 100 hours of professional development each year. It is widely recognised in Singapore that teaching is much more than just spending time in classrooms.
It may be said that such a centrally-organised and consistent approach to maths education is difficult to replicate in Australia. However, we could also look at the successes in maths standards in the UK. In 2015, the UK was ranked below Australia for achievement in maths. Now it performs significantly better. The UK government has invested in a network of maths hubs that bring together groups of schools within a locality to share professional training for the teachers. These devolved centres are coordinated by the National Centre of Excellence in Teaching of Mathematics to ensure the quality and resourcing of the maths hubs across the country. The attention to consistency, sharing practices and the recognition of the importance of continuous professional development of maths teachers in the UK is not unlike Singapore. It has paid dividends.
Australia must do much better for all of its school students when it comes to maths. We have some great teachers who are very dedicated and innovative in their teaching. They are willing to share their expertise and experience with colleagues. To give all Australian students opportunities in the global workplace of the future, we have to recognise the challenge in Australia of achieving high standards, rigour and consistency in our maths education across the country. To do this, we have to coordinate at a national level, for example through an institute that provides benchmarks and support in maths teaching practice, and share the pockets of great work going on in the state and territories. Most importantly, we need to invest in Australian maths teachers to lead, share and become role models in the continuous advancement of their craft.
The Australian Maths Trust (AMT) and the Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers (AAMT) are pleased to announce the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding on March 26th 2019 to facilitate closer collaboration between the two organisations.
The MoU paves the way for a strong partnership between AMT and AAMT that will better support teachers and students in mathematics education.
AMT has a wealth of resources to support mathematical problem-solving, investigations, computational and algorithmic thinking. The AMT programs and competitions are renowned across Australia for challenging teachers and students in their mathematical skills at all levels.
AAMT and its state and territory Affiliated Associations provide professional learning programs for mathematics teachers, resources for the classroom, advice and support for schools in numeracy, mathematics and STEM, and work with government and other stakeholders to advance mathematics education.
Working together, AMT and AAMT hope to bring teachers and students a richer range of resources and programs that will support the development of mathematical skills in and beyond the curriculum and their application to investigative and problem-solving tasks. Through this, students of all abilities will gain confidence in applying mathematics to real-world scenarios and have more inspiration to study to higher levels.
AMT and AAMT share the view that support for the professional development of mathematics teachers is critical to improving the uptake and performance of students in mathematics in schools in Australia. AMT and AAMT will work with government and other stakeholders to promote this view and ensure teaching is a priority for investment and support.
The Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers (AAMT) is calling on universities and education systems to start acting on the many reports proposing ways to halt Australia’s decline in education through initiatives in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).
Today, the Office of the Chief Scientist has issued a position paper titled ‘Transforming STEM teaching in primary schools: everybody’s business’ which calls for the transformation of STEM education in primary schools through raising the preparedness and quality of primary teacher training.
AAMT supports the sentiments and proposals expressed in the position paper, and is keen to work with universities and education systems to see ideas realised.
“We’ve watched this issue build for years, continually hearing from teacher educators and their concerns about the lack of appropriate mathematical backgrounds of many of their students,” said Mr Will Morony, Chief Executive Officer of the AAMT.
“A lack of subject knowledge and therefore confidence in teaching Maths and Science is a major problem for many primary teachers. We need STEM to be taught and taught well, right from the early years, and the only way to do that is to have appropriate selection, pre-service preparation, and ongoing support for all teachers of STEM throughout their careers,” said Mr Morony.
“We all know where the issues are. It’s time for all parties to start working together to act on the advice,” he added.
The position paper released by the Office of the Chief Scientist not only summarises many of the issues raised in various reports, but calls for long-term decisive actions.
The paper calls for measures to attract high achievers in STEM to primary school teaching, and for increasing the rigour of pre-service courses in universities. It also calls for existing primary teachers to be supported by STEM specialists, professional development programs in STEM to be available at a national level, and forprincipals to be leaders in STEM.
The position paper is available from www.chiefscientist.gov.au.
The Australian Academy of Science is proud to partner with the Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers to create a bold new Australian government-supported program to transform how mathematics is taught in Australian schools.
The Minister for Education and Training, the Hon. Simon Birmingham, today announced that the Academy and the AAMT have been awarded a $6.4 million contract to develop and promote new maths resources for school students and teachers, from Foundation to Year 10.
High school mathematics teachers have gone into Australian businesses to see for themselves the mathematics that workers use every day.
The teachers confirmed that there is a need to improve the connections between the mathematics taught at school and the ways in which mathematics is used at work. Importantly, they discovered that not only do many people in the workforce need mathematical skills, they particularly need to know when and how to apply them to practical tasks.
The study, conducted by the Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers (AAMT), the Australian Industry Group (Ai Group) and the Office of the Chief Scientist, found young people often have trouble transferring the quantitative skills learned at school to workplace situations.
“This disconnect requires our attention. It has implications for individuals because mathematics is at the core of many careers. It has implications for business and industry because there is no sector which does not require its workforce to apply some level of mathematical knowledge. As the global economy becomes increasingly dependent on technology, our national competitiveness will be underwritten by our real-world capability in mathematics and science,” said Australia’s Chief Scientist Professor Ian Chubb.
“It is essential that this issue is addressed to align the school teaching of mathematics and its application to our rapidly changing workplaces to enable the Australian economy to meet our future needs,” said Australian Industry Group Chief Executive, Innes Willox.
“Clearly there are implications for the ways in which curriculum is implemented and maths is taught,” said AAMT President Dr Mary Coupland. “We need to understand how mathematics is used in workplace settings and the Australian Curriculum needs to support the transfer of skills.”
The report, ‘Identifying and Supporting Quantitative Skills of 21st Century Workers’ was released today. The full report is available at www.chiefscientist.gov.au, www.aamt.edu.au and www.aigroup.com.au.
“This is important work. It should prompt a national discussion on how best to achieve our ultimate goal – mathematics to be taught as it is practised and for mathematics taught that way offered to every Australian student,” Professor Chubb said.