Adam Spencer: Promoting the importance of maths

The University of Sydney’s appointment of well-known media personality and pure maths graduate Adam Spencer as its Mathematics and Science Ambassador addresses widespread concern amongst teachers and academics about high school students studying less mathematics, despite aspiring to careers in science and technology (STEM).

The Institute for Innovation in Science and Maths Education (IISME) has joined Australia’s Chief Scientist in identifiying the decline in advanced maths study at school as a critical issue for many STEM disciplines. Without advanced maths knowledge, many students pursuing STEM tertiary courses find they struggle to do well.

IISME held a forum in Sydney this week to consider the impact of poor maths knowledge on student achievement across a range STEM tertiary courses.

With input from more than 150 lecturers from across Australia, the forum sought to identify solutions that will ensure that students have the fundamental skills they need to succeed at university.

Speaking at the forum, University of Sydney’s Dean of Science Professor Trevor Hambley said that Adam Spencer was ideally suited to the role of Mathematics and Science Ambassador because of his deep appreciation of why students need to stay interested in maths throughout their education.

“It is fitting to be announcing Adam’s position at this conference as he will inspire students to realise both the enjoyment and opportunities maths offers.”

Dr Deborah King from University of Melbourne said that the decline in maths skills is having a real impact on student retention, particularly when so many students don’t have the skills they need to succeed. She said that the forum seeks to find practical solutions to help overcome severe shortfalls in “assumed maths knowledge”.

Australia’s Chief Scientist Professor Ian Chubb said that training and supporting outstanding high school teachers is critical to ensuring that students continue to study advanced maths despite it being difficult.

With only 9% high school students taking advanced maths in Year 12, Professor Chubb said that a cultural shift is required.

“We have to make the study of maths so compellingly interesting that more and more kids want to do it,” he said, citing the impact that scientist and TV presenter Brian Cox has had on physics.

Professor Chubb said that it will take creativity and relentless pursuit of specific objectives to ensure that more Australians become aware of why STEM disciplines are critical for solving the problems of the future.

More information: Institute for Innovation in Science and Maths Education

Read the Dean of Science Professor Trevor Hambley’s piece in The Conversation about how a lack of maths just doesn’t add up for a career in science.

Read the recent report from a Secondary Mathematics Teacher Survey that identifies an urgent need to increase the number of qualified secondary mathematic teachers and attract more mathematically-able students into the profession of mathematics teaching.