Why do I need to learn algebra?
The issue of young people not understanding why maths is important seems quite commonplace. At CareerHQ our data shows us almost 100% of the time, the skill students want to be better at is maths. So why is it then that students, particularly younger students, don’t seem interested in maths or see the value of it?
How do we convince students that maths is an essential tool for almost any job nowadays? Sure, there are parts of the maths curriculum that you may never use again but elements you’ll depend on daily. Which parts you need most depends entirely on your career.
All too often the finger is pointed at the teachers. ‘You should do a better job.’, ‘You should teach maths in a more interesting way.’. A large part of the problem seems to stem from the fact that there are far too few qualified maths teachers around. The Australian Government and several State Governments have incentive schemes in place to bring more teachers and specifically maths teachers into the profession. However there is currently a huge shortage of all teachers, with maths being one of the largest areas of shortfall. Obviously maths is still being taught in schools regardless of this shortage.
According to the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, (an international assessment), 23% of year 8 students are being taught maths by teachers who are qualified in other subjects. Is it really any surprise that students want to drop maths or take the easiest possible version of the subject when they’re being taught by teachers not qualified in the subject? Clearly this isn’t the teachers fault. Teacher’s who are stepping into the gap to help students do as well as they can.
Notwithstanding this situation, there is an opportunity to make maths more enticing to students in the classroom. Relating maths to real life situations and problems could well help. Teaching maths as a problem solving and curiosity raising subject, rather than learning how to work out calculations. Understanding how and why the International Date Line is used rather than the ‘If you leave on a plane from city A on Monday morning…’ type problem. Several States have programs in place to promote maths to both students and teachers alike to highlight how dynamic and valuable maths can be. Eddie Woo, known to many for his Wootube site, is heading a program by the NSW Government to do just that. The NSW Government has also recently made maths at HSC level compulsory starting in 2024. In Victoria the State Government recently introduced a new foundation level maths option for year 12 students to entice students who otherwise wouldn’t include maths as a subject in their final year. So the States are definitely trying to build a stronger mathematical capability in Australian students.
Maths is used across the curriculum without students realising it. Whether they’re looking at recipes in Food Design & Technology, programming in Computer Science, or cell experiments in Biology. That is also true of careers. Students associate maths with engineering, accounting or teaching. Forgetting that anything science or technology related is based in maths, any artistic roles that include patterns and symmetry is based in maths, working out how much feed or medicine each animal on a farm requires is based in maths. Virtually every career has some mathematical element to it, and many careers such as architecture, nursing or real estate require multiple maths calculations every day. The best way for students to really understand this message is work experience, or understanding what a day in the life of multiple careers is actually like.
Studying maths, no matter whether it is pure maths or general maths, to a senior level at high school, or even at university, throws open endless possibilities. And now more than ever, not studying maths to a high level at school can limit students’ career and study options. With State Governments pushing students to include maths more in their subject selections, and seeking to raise the number of highly skilled maths teachers around the country, hopefully students will be given the opportunity to be better at maths, as they constantly tell us they’d like to be.