**
***News & Views item - December
2008* |

**
Update
on ***Math Matters*. (December 2, 2008)

For this month's opinion piece TFW has reprinted a
contribution by Peter Hall that's over 4½ years old (April 12, 2004) --* ***
Math Matters**,
and we asked: "Has there been much change for the
better?" Professor
Hall, the current president of the Australian Mathematical Society, has provided
TFW with the following update.

That revolution in education can come none to soon.

_____________________________________

The attached charts show trends in numbers of mathematics majors in Australian
universities over the period 2001 to 2007, and in Year 12 enrollments in
different levels of mathematics in Australian schools over the period 1995 to
2007. The graph of numbers of mathematics majors shows a clear downwards trend.
(The hiccup in 2003 is possibly the result of a major university not reporting
accurately.)

*Number of Mathematics
Major Student Enrolments 2001-2007*

Reflecting this trend -- because it reveals the decreasing
numbers of students who have the preparation at school that they need to study
mathematics at university -- the graph of participation in Year 12 shows a
sustained drift from Advanced to Intermediate, and from Intermediate to
Elementary, mathematics.

*Update on Year 12 Mathematics Student Numbers**

Although the chart showing problems in high schools is
perhaps the most worrying for science as a whole, the trends in the two charts
are closely linked, as I'll explain in a moment.
As the number of students
taking anything other than the most basic maths course in schools declines, the
capacity of Australian students to study much science in university also
decreases. Now, the problems in our schools are caused by the lack of trained
maths teachers, and trained maths teachers should have majored in maths at
university -- for example, this is mandatory in NSW. So you can see that as the
number of maths majors in university goes down, so too does the number of
trained maths teachers, and hence also the number of people taking anything more
than elementary maths at school, which in turn leads to a reduction in the
number of people capable of majoring in mathematics in our universities, and
thus leads to a decline in the number of maths teachers… Thus,
the spiral continues ever downwards. This problem received significant publicity
in 2006, at which time we had data only up to 2004. Now that we have data up to
and including 2007, you can see that the trend is continuing quite happily on
its merry way.

____________________________________________

*Chart for year 12 student numbers supplied by Frank
Barrington, Department of Mathematics and Statistics, The University of
Melbourne.