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Maths becoming a dying art

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Maths becoming a dying art

Post by Mohamed on Thu Mar 05, 2009 11:47 am

http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2009/03/04/2507361.htm

Maths becoming a dying art



Posted Wed Mar 4, 2009 3:42pm AEDT
Updated Wed Mar 4, 2009 7:22pm AEDT

Falling university enrolments and fewer high school maths teachers adds up to a dying subject. (ABC News: Giulio Saggin)







Today is World Maths Day but mathematics, it seems, is a dying art.
University enrolments are falling, as is the number of high school teachers with a maths major.
The Australian Mathematical Society says many Australian school children are coming out of schools without knowing how to do a calculation with a pencil and paper.
Today, there is an effort to revive some of the interest in maths with a quarter of a million Australian school students taking part in a global maths competition.
The president of the Australian Mathematical Society, Nalini Joshi, believes maths is in dire straits.
"I think that there are still many talented students who are very interested in it, but we are not offering them the opportunities to pursue it at high school," she said.
Professor Joshi says the decline of the subject is due to a lack of teachers in the field, rather than a lack of enthusiasm from students.
"We don't have the numbers in the qualified mathematics teacher category any more; we have experienced teachers who are looking at retirement in large numbers in the next few years," she said.
"And the cohort of teachers coming through is where the worry is. There are many people there who are great teachers but they are not as confident as we would like them to be at the advanced levels."
She says there needs to be more support and acknowledgment of maths teachers to encourage people to the profession.
"[Acknowledgment] needs to be at the Federal Government level, with, for example, setting up of a prize for mathematics teaching; that would be acknowledgment that this is an important part of our nation building enterprise," she said.
"And there needs to be developmental support that's available to teachers of mathematics at high school."
Professor Joshi also says that despite the teacher shortage, some maths teachers have trouble getting a placement.
"I think there needs to be a study done into that," she said.
"I think that where the shortages are, are in places which need to have... guaranteed placements, so anybody who comes along with an investment to make should be encouraged to make that step with, perhaps, higher pay.
"A lot of the problems are happening in areas that are rural, remote, or where there are further problems, so that the teachers are attracted into those areas and are given the support to do so."
Student skills



Professor Joshi also says students are becoming too reliant on calculators to solve problems instead of working them out manually.
"Being able to do a calculation actually teaches you to think logically and if you are relying on a piece of technology to do that for you, you're giving up that skill," she said.
But Professor Joshi does not think children should be banned from using calculators at all, but should use them in conjunction with their own skills.
"At the primary level, the essential skills on how to do arithmetic, how to do long division... all of those should be reinforced through the students' own calculations on paper, and then you can use calculators to add to that if you wish," she said.
"But when many students come through into the high school setting they haven't actually got those skills [so] they automatically pick up the calculator."


Adapted from an interview with Anna Hipsley on ABC News Radio.
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