More students studying religion than physics for the HSC

Well this came as a surprise to me: There are more students sitting the HSC for ‘Studies of Religion’ than there are students studying chemistry or physics. I find that horrifying, I really do. For that matter it’s not filling me with joy to see more people sitting for Physical Education.And then there’s the Maths figures. I’ve nothing against the other courses but I would dearly love to see all students go forth into the world with an understanding of maths and hard science.

Here are the top 15 subjects in order of enrollment:

Top 15 subjects
Subject Unique enrolments
1. English


2. Mathematics


3. Biology


4. Business Studies


5. Personal Development, Health and Physical Education


6. Studies of Religion


7. Modern History


8. Chemistry


9. Legal Studies


10. Ancient History


11. Visual Arts


12. Physics


13. Community and Family Studies


14. Hospitality


15. Senior Science


Even though this year sees a record number of students sitting the HSC, there are fewer students sitting maths than last year. Last year 58,184 students sat HSC maths (out of 76,679), this year it’s 57,989 (out of 77,163). That’s not a good thing.

For yet another year biology is the only science with a significant level of enrollment. It’s not clear to me why that is; although there is a lot of literature pointing out that a great many girls choose to do biology. According a University of Sydney study from 2015: “More than one-third of ATAR-eligible girls take biology. Only 16 percent now take a science subject other than biology.” I’m really not sure how to parse this but I fear that as some schools and universities require a science course, people are choosing biology because it’s seen as the easier choice and one that doesn’t require maths.

So there are more girls than boys sitting the HSC this year. Yet there are significantly more boys doing maths than girls, especially in the extension subjects.

Mathematics General 2 Units Male % Female % Total
Mathematics General 2 2 16271 50 16206 50 32477
Mathematics 2 8892 54 7622 46 16514
Mathematics Extension 1 2 5206 59 3666 41 8872
Mathematics Extension 2 2 2113 64 1170 36 3283
Mathematics General 1* 2 2616 63 1530 37 4146
Biology 2 6972 39 11038 61 18010
Chemistry 2 5958 56 4778 45 10736
Earth and Environmental Science 2 912 56 705 44 1617
Physics 2 7272 78 2024 22 9296
Senior Science 2 3699 54 3121 46 6820

In physics, in particular, the number of boys dong the subject dwarfs the number of girls. Look, this is a worry as an issue between the genders, but it’s also a worry because it’s possible that the declining numbers of people doing maths, physics and chemistry is linked in some way. These figures ought to be a serious concern for us all.

Anyway, the little cynic who sits at the back of my brain is screaming that we’re producing a bunch of really fit people who know stuff about gods but aren’t quite sure why satellites stay in orbit.

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