After my rant about the awful numbers of people doing maths and science for the HSC, Actuarial Eye turned her far more piercing and analytical gaze upon the issue and added to the depression. By digging back through figures to 1991, Actuarial Eye shows that advance maths study truly is in decline in NSW.
There is no way to interpret these figures that doesn’t tell a depressing story of declining numbers of students educated in maths and science.
Perhaps worse is the fact that the 2001 changes which included making maths no longer compulsory have clearly failed in their over-arching attempt to make it more rigorous and arrest a decline in the numbers of students taking advanced maths courses. After a brief blip where it looked like something positive might be happening it turned back into a decline both in the numbers of students taking advanced courses and doing maths of any sort. The situation we now find ourselves in is the direct result of a deliberate course-change that has not delivered the desired outcome.
I’m going to venture out on a limb and say that a decade of data is enough for us for us to reach a conclusion that the current approach is not working. If we can agree that a solid foundation in maths is essential (and I recognise that not everyone believes that, but let’s go there for the moment), then the old system was clearly doing a better job.
There are some signs that compulsory maths might be on the agenda but there’s also some serious opposition to the idea to be overcome. There’s also the horrible, practical limiting factor that after a decade of decline it’s increasingly hard to find qualified people to teach maths at all, let alone engagingly.
As Actuarial Eye puts it:
So if you’re looking for students who have had the rigorous training in mathematical thinking that you get from studying (among other things) calculus at school, they are going to be harder to find than they used to be. … To be an engineer, or a serious coder, or a systems engineer, extension maths is pretty important. But our education system is failing to produce enough students who have studied the hard maths.
Image: Actuarial Eye