Jan Thomas* ̶ Access to Mathematics is Vital for Equity
Photo credit: Michael Shaw, AMSI
The following contribution appears in the
October 2009 issue of
Science as the "conScience" column and
is reprinted here with the permission of the author and
is reprinted here with the permission of the author and Australasian Science.
The disastrous state of mathematics
in the room for science, innovation and social inclusion in
In the mid-1980s a respected Scandinavian mathematics educator, Stieg Mellin-Olsen, argued that mathematics was nearly as important to a student’s life chances as being literate. Mellin-Olsen died on Australia Day 1995, a year that was a watershed for Australian mathematical sciences. It heralded a steady decline of mathematical sciences in Australian universities that now underpins a situation in schools that is the antipathy of what Mellin-Olsen believed.
A review of Australian mathematical sciences in 1995, published early in 1996, identified challenges but was generally optimistic about the future. However, when the Howard government reduced funding to universities from its first Budget later that year, it had a profound impact on university mathematics and statistics departments. Reasons for this included a faulty funding model for the teaching of mathematics and statistics and falling numbers of Year 12 students completing intermediate or advanced mathematics courses.
flight of many of
English-speaking countries with similar mathematics curricula have begun to
improve in international tests,
In the past
The ultimate solution lies in rebuilding mathematics and statistics in our universities so that the supply of graduates increases. There was a brief glimmer of hope in 2006 when funding for the teaching of mathematics and statistics was increased by nearly $3000 per equivalent full-time student. However, very little of this extra money found its way to mathematics and statistics departments.
The subsequent federal government has now endorsed the Bradley review’s recommendation for ambitious national targets of 40% of 25-34-year-olds attaining bachelor level or above by 2025 and 20% share of undergraduate enrolments from low socio-economic status by 2020. Unless mathematics in the universities and schools is greatly enhanced these targets will only be met by creating courses that do not prepare students for jobs in the modern world where mathematical skills are virtually mandatory.
equipped with adequate mathematical skills are already in a privileged position
in gaining access to rewards in a world of science and technology. In
In other parts
of the world mathematics education is discussed around values like “opportunity
for citizenship and the global economy”, “civil rights”, “equity” and “social
justice”. We urgently need debates in these terms in