Bad news, worse news, grim news in maths education

Geoff Prince warns of a maths teacher shortage, again. His Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute regularly sets out stats showing a shortage of school maths teachers and this morning he adds that despite recruitment strategies it will not improve soon.

And now he and Michael O’Connor warn that it would take 13.5 years for new maths teaching graduates to equal retirements of maths teachers, and teachers who take maths classes. To reduce the number of teachers who are not maths trained but teach the discipline to 10 per cent it would take 21 years.

This really really matters;

Out-of-field teaching in mathematics not only affects the learning outcomes of students, it limits our schools’ ability to mount the intermediate and advanced subjects at Years 10 through 12 which lead to degrees in science, engineering, medicine and so on. It is worst in regional, remote and mid to low SES communities and is therefore an equity issue, not only limiting educational access but driving down adult numeracy. From an economic view-point it chokes the supply of mathematically and statistically capable professionals in an era of increasing demand.”

That’s the bad news. The worse news is that there is no way we can make-do without out of field teachers who retrain; for every thousand maths-teaching grads Australia needs to retrain up to 600 out of field teachers.

The grim news is AMSI’s estimate that there are 1500 third year maths undergraduates in a given year and not many of them will take up teaching, “with many more heading into further study or lucrative employment in an economy hungry for data science, optimisation and algorithms.”

“Clearly, our universities must increase undergraduate numbers in mathematics and statistics to restock the teacher workforce. We leave the reader to ponder how this might be done when the social demographic which produces school teachers is so poorly supplied with in-field teachers of mathematics!, ” Prince and O’Connor warn.

So, what’s the good news? There isn’t any.

“Australia is not alone in having a severe out-of-field problem in mathematics. However, the combination of multiple jurisdictions and institutions which train, employ and register teachers has made our problem almost intractable. The time for shouting at the issue has long passed, what we need now is leadership.”


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