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Press Release: STEM Teaching Crisis

May 10th 2019
STEM Teaching Crisis

A report released today by the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute (AMSI) highlights ‘swelling secondary student numbers and a drought in mathematically qualified teachers’. The same statement could well be said of teachers qualified in physics and chemistry.

This is a fundamental problem that undermines all of the strategies to improve the STEM experience for students and engage them in it.

The Australian Council of Deans of Science (ACDS) calls on State and Federal Ministers of Education to act urgently on the concerns identified in the report, and to extend the scope of their actions to cover all disciplines involved in STEM.

The AMSI press release highlights the lack of transparency about the STEM knowledge base of the teaching workforce, and the extent to which teachers out-of-field are being asked to teach STEM subjects.

Education authorities may, and sometimes do, question the importance of teachers completing university studies in STEM. Whatever the merits of that argument, it doesn’t justify having no publically stated and monitored measures to assure the quality of disciplinary grounding and experience required to undertake STEM teaching.

The AMSI report also demonstrates that you won’t lift the STEM knowledge base of the teaching worforce by focussing on teacher education, that is, pre-service education. Measures need to be taken for the existing workforce.

However, there is little space and little reward for teacher professional learning. There needs to be a change in teachers’ professional environment so that their own learning is considered to be as serious a matter as the learning of their students.

We are all life long learners these days. Professions learn through respected professional networks that involve all key stakeholders in a peer environment. Until the education system supports comprehensive professional networks that engage with industry, universities and the community it is unlikely that we will solve the problem of lifting the STEM knowledge base of the teaching workforce.

Professor Brian Yates President, ACDS
0439 281 553
brian.yates@utas.edu.au

Professor John Rice, Executive Director, ACDS
0438 438 097
john.rice@adelaide.edu.au

ACDS AGM condemns interference in ARC grants – press release

In solidarity with our colleagues in the humanities and social sciences, and via a unanimous resolution of its Annual General Meeting, the ACDS deplores the unwarranted and unreasonable intervention of the Minister for Education in vetoing the award of a tranche of ARC grants.

We call upon the Minister to explain the basis on which he decided to defy the results of a robust review process by national and international experts.

We reject any implied criticism of the ARC, whose grant processes are conducted with the highest standards of integrity and expertise.

We call upon the government to commit publicly to ensure that no further ministerial interference occurs in the award of ARC or NHMRC grants.

 

Professor Brian Yates
President, ACDS
0439 281 553
brian.yates@utas.edu.au
Professor John Rice
Executive Director, ACDS
0438 438 097
john.rice@adelaide.edu.au

STEM enrolment patterns 2002 – 2015

 
Enrolments at Australian universities increased 56% in 2002-2015, but only 32% in STEM due to a crash of 23% in IT numbers.
 
Taken separately the sciences and engineering appear to fare better than average, with growth of 67% and 73%. However, this better than average performance is due entirely to overseas student enrolments. Take them out, and domestic student enrolments increased only by the university average of 56% in the sciences. In engineering the increase is well below, at 43%.
 
These figures and much more are contained in the report, STEM in Australia: The statistical patterns of university science and technology in the twenty-first century, the latest in a series by Dr Ian Dobson, commissioned by the ACDS. You can find the whole report, or the entire series on our Publications page.

Deans study maths’ role in uni success

The Australian

Australian Edition

Publish Date: 23 May 2018 22:00

Section: HIGHEREDUCATION, p.27

As many as 12 universities across Australia will co-operate with a research project to determine how important high school mathematics study is for success in tertiary-level science courses.

The University of Sydney has already decided to introduce maths prerequisites for certain courses starting next year and other tertiary-level institutions are considering following suit.

The study, commissioned by the Australian Council of Deans of Science following widespread debate on the importance of high school maths for different university courses, has already confirmed the participation of six universities and several others are also likely to participate.

ACDS executive director John Rice said it was important to understand more about the levels of maths understanding needed for university courses.

“In looking to introduce prerequisites, we need to gather solid evidence that connect the level of mathematics study with performance at university,” Professor Rice said.

“I think the syllabuses need to be reviewed more carefully so there is a solid argument about the utility of the various courses, and whether you can really make a case that this level mathematics subject will actually help you in a particular course.

“We run the danger if we force prerequisites on students – all we may do is create a generation of students with an inspired hatred of the subject.” Studies conducted by individual universities suggest that without a solid understanding of maths at more than the very basic level, students were more likely to fail first-year science courses.

Debate on this issue has prompted consternation in the sector, which has culminated in the research study.

“A year or two ago, you couldn’t have got the deans to co-operate like this, but now they are,” Professor Rice said. “They want to know what the real story is here. They need to know it will make a difference.” The ACDS has asked the Australian Council for Educational Research to conduct the research.

Daniel Edwards, ACER’s principal research fellow, said the work would take some time but he hoped it would be finished in the coming months.

“We’re at the recruitment and data evidence-building stage of the project now,” Dr Edwards said. “I think we have five or six universities who are absolutely on board. Our ambition is to get 12 universities to participate.” Work has begun on mapping equivalence across different Year 12 maths courses around the country. Each state offers different mathematics subjects over as many as four levels, and different maths subjects have different names.

This information will be built into a database to find out whether earlier research conducted by the University of Sydney and others is replicable, expanding over a broader scale to include as many universities as possible in a nationally representative way.

Dr Edwards said the earlier -research suggested that even poor results in advanced maths subjects improved students’ chances of doing well in a first-year chemistry course.

“The requirements of the project are relatively sophisticated in terms of the data we need to collect in order to be able to say something useful,” he said, while predicting that access to the data that the project needed would limit university participation.

The study needs both comprehensive information about the depth of students’ mathematics study before they enrol in university and data about the students’ university results. Some universities would have difficulty merging these two datasets.

Certain mathematics academics have been pushing for an -increased emphasis on the importance of solid maths understanding in preparation for university science courses, including biology, chemistry and physics, and other courses that -require higher levels of mathematics understanding.

Geoff Prince, of the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute, has been encouraging universities to introduce mathematics prerequisites for various courses. “There’s more indication at the moment of consideration on this matter than there has been for 10 years,” Professor Prince said.

SIAN POWELL

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