New maths courses 'inadequate'

  • Justine Ferrari, National Education Correspondent
  • From: The Australian
  • July 18, 2012 12:00AM

THE standard of maths taught at universities will have to be dramatically lowered if the proposed national curriculum for Years 11 and 12 is adopted, academics have warned, and this will undermine the ability to train the next generation of scientists and engineers.

In a damning assessment of the draft curriculum, a working group from the University of NSW school of mathematics and statistics has blasted the two proposed maths courses as "seriously inadequate", with content that is unbalanced, incoherent and out of line with the top international standards in maths curriculum.

The assessment was prepared by a working group of four academics at the university, chaired by associate professor Norman Wildberger, and circulated at a recent consultation forum on the curriculum. "The draft national curriculum replaces core material such as algebra, geometry, and applications of calculus with a lot of advanced statistics and, for the higher strand, tertiary-level topics," the response says.

The report says the intermediate maths course, mathematical methods, is "seriously inadequate" with "algebra minimised and geometry omitted altogether", instead comprising a preponderance of statistics with some calculus. "Of the four basic topics, (algebra and statistics) are the most important, and the most fundamental," it says. "Algebraic skill is fundamental for almost all mathematical computations.

"Geometric thinking is essential not only in mathematics but in many of its applications, especially in engineering, physics, chemistry, architecture, industry and technology."

The highest-level course, specialist mathematics, covers a huge amount, including topics generally taught at university rather than high school in an ad hoc way that fails to link the different topics. "The subject 'mathematical methods' is now largely calculus and statistics while the subject 'specialist mathematics' is an ad hoc and overfull compilation of advanced topics, which will only appeal to a small cohort of students, and will be very difficult for any teacher to effectively teach.

"We are particularly concerned that future engineering and sciences students will fall through the gap between these subjects."

Professor Wildberger told The Australian that introducing the curriculum in its current form would be a backwards step for maths and science at a time when effort was focused on attracting students into the subjects.

He said the best maths curriculums in the world, particularly in countries such as Singapore whose students are among the best in the world in maths and science, comprise a balance of the four main topics of algebra, geometry, calculus and statistics.

Professor Wildberger said the statisticians in the maths school, one of whom was a member of the working group, agreed the focus on statistics was inappropriate.

A spokesman for the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority, which is developing the curriculum, said the courses were still drafts and all feedback was welcome.