Why is Australia behind in Mathematics, and who is to blame?

Why is Australia behind in Mathematics, and who is to blame?

“I’m illiterate, haha…. I just hated English at school!”

I can’t say that I’ve ever heard anyone say that. Sure, some people will  say that they didn’t enjoy English at school, but very few people will  openly proclaim that they are illiterate.

What about this one… “I can’t do Maths, haha…. I just hated Maths at school.”

“I’m illiterate, haha…. I just hated English at school!”

Being ‘bad at Maths’ is socially acceptable. People bond over their  common dislike for the subject. The funny thing is that Maths isn’t just  a ‘subject at school.’ Mathematical language, like a spoken language,  is crucial to everyday life. It’s crucial for managing personal  finances, it’s crucial in business, it’s crucial for making sense of the  way the world works, and it is most definitely crucial for the STEM  jobs that will dominate our jobs landscape within the next decade.

This week the results of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study were released. You’ve all read the headlines — ‘Australian students  fall behind Kazakhstan in maths and science rankings’, and ‘Aussie kids  outgunned in maths by US, Canada, England’.

Australia dropped from 18th to 28th out of 49 countries in Year 4  Mathematics. We also fell from 12th to 17th in Year 8 Mathematics.

Ranking of TIMSS 2015 maths scores for 10 year olds

These results aren’t just disappointing, they reveal an alarming  reality. If we don’t pick up our game, one of those Year 4 students will  be looking for work in about 10 years from now. The job landscape will  be very different to what it is today. Strong mathematical and  scientific foundations will be essential. She or He will be ‘bad at  Maths,’ and no one will be laughing.

By and large we still teach maths students the same way we taught  hundreds of years ago - in an industrial ‘one size fits all’ model.

We largely still rely on paper textbooks. We have all 30 students in a  classroom working off the same page of the textbook, at the same time.  Teachers know that this is not the best way to improve student outcomes,  but they’re often handcuffed to teaching ‘to the test’ and getting  through the curriculum.

Technology is often been pitched as a solution, but you’ll actually find  research from PISA (another international test of Mathematics skills)  suggests that the increased use of computers in the classroom is  correlated with lower test scores - particularly for paper-based  Mathematics exams.

Personally I believe that this is, in large part, due to the limitations  of computer-based Maths applications. Many are simply digital versions  of a textbook, or multiple choice ‘games’ apps. The developers of these  platforms have simply replicated what we already do in the classroom,  just in a digital format. We need to be more research-based with our  interventions and choice of technology.

We know from leading researchers like Bloom and John Hattie that  personalised instruction, mastery-based learning, formative testing,  feedback, and spaced repetition all have a positive effect on student  learning.

We are fortunate enough to live in a time of radical technological  innovation, which we can use to achieve personalised instruction.

Mathspace has built a maths tech product that actually incorporates real pedagogical considerations in our design.

Maths is one of those subjects that can cause a lot of angst. Often a  student won’t understand a topic, or even a particular question, and yet  the class will move on. This student is then stuck with a knowledge  gap. This knowledge gaps leads to loss of confidence.

Maths programs like Mathspace can really help to make maths education more personalised. Our adaptive  learning platform gives students completely personalised maths programs  at every step. Questions change depending upon the student’s progress.  Adaptive technology tailors maths questions for the student’s level  & pace. This ensures that the student masters a topic before  progressing to new topics.

Every student’s program matches their level, and challenges them in the  right ways. This builds confidence — which is crucial when studying  maths.

I’ve been involved in Maths education for 7 years now and the pace of  change is extremely slow. If we continue doing things the same way, we  will keep getting the same results.

Who is to blame for our  country’s poor maths results? We all are! We have made it socially  acceptable to be ‘bad at maths.’ Now we need to fix it.