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Math teacher shortage worse with more enrolments

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The shortage of Maths teachers is well documented and has been for some time, a shortage has been appreciated since the 1980s.

But with the growth in Australia’s population, the problem will only get worse as enrolments increase in step. In Victoria, the Grattan Institute estimates an extra 10,900 students per year between 2018 and 2024 , but with a projected 650,000 extra students by 2026.

The supply of new mathematics teachers is related to Year 12 mathematics enrolments and the figures there are not great; the proportion of Year 12 students taking advanced level mathematics in 2014 was 32% lower than in 1996 and it has continued to decline.

Mathematics in Australian universities suffered a major decline post 1996. A number still do not offer a major in mathematical sciences. There are limited opportunities to study mathematics outside of the major capital cities and none in one of the territories. In 2003, only 0.4% of Australian university students graduated with mathematics or statistics qualifications, compared with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) average of 1%.

The future supply of new teachers ultimately depends on improving Year 12 participation in the advanced level mathematics courses. Initiatives such as the AMSI-delivered CHOOSEMATHS Project, funded from 2015 to 2019 by the BHP Foundation, will assist with this. The expansion of pre-requisites for many degrees in the universities would improve the supply of graduates with sufficient mathematics to be effective teachers at the junior secondary level.

The Deans of Science found in 2006 that only 64% of secondary schools were offering advanced level mathematics courses. Cumulative data relating to highest level mathematics courses for 2018 from Queensland, NSW and Victoria show this to be about 62%.

So where to? In 2011, a new national standard for accreditation of initial teacher education programs was endorsed by the Ministerial Council for Education, Early Childhood and Youth Affairs, requiring postgraduate courses to be of two-years duration. Its impact is likely to have been negligible in attracting mathematics graduates, especially those with more than a three-year undergraduate degree, career change professionals and immigrant teachers.

Currently, only the NSW Department of Education has a comprehensive set of programs to address teacher supply in areas of shortfall.

The NSW programs include opportunities to study more mathematics and various other scholarships and incentives, tied to permanent positions in NSW schools. Significant financial incentives are available to teachers prepared to teach in remote areas. The NSW cadetships and internships where trainee teachers are employed as paraprofessionals while completing their training could be a mechanism for supporting career change professionals.

The NSW programs have some similarity to those offered in England. England also has support for acquiring the discipline knowledge so that potential mathematics teachers can then access the generous support bursaries available. The incentives available have recently been adjusted to include both payments during training and tax free payments in their third and fifth year of teaching as part of new retention strategies.

Ireland provides an example demonstrating that retraining can be very successful. In Ireland, a national survey of 324 mathematics teachers in 51 secondary schools carried out in 2009 found that 48 per cent of the teachers  did not have sufficient mathematics teaching qualifications for registration as a qualified mathematics teacher. Ireland’s Professional Diploma in Mathematics for Teaching resulted in a reduction in out-of-field teaching to 25%.

Designed to meet Teaching Council requirements for registration as qualified mathematics teacher64, the program was delivered by the University of Limerick and the National University of Ireland, Galway, leading a national consortium of 13 higher education institutions. The intensive program makes significant demands on teacher time.

In Australia it would not be difficult for a group of mathematics teachers familiar with the Year 7–12 curriculum and university mathematical scientists to formulate discipline courses appropriate for teaching Years 7–10 and 11–12. Not only would this assist with retraining by providing existing teachers with appropriate courses to upgrade their skills, it would encourage undergraduates considering teaching to choose appropriate courses.

From AMSI Occasional Paper 2 Australian Secondary Mathematics Teacher Shortfalls: A Deepening Crisis

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