The National Assessment Program test results for Australian school students in years three to nine, released last month, revealed that although we are 'meeting' our own standards, we are dramatically falling behind international benchmarks, says Professor Anthony Dooley, Head of the School of Mathematics and Statistics at UNSW.

The picture in senior high school is rather grim, he writes in an opinion piece published in the Australian Financial Review.

"Between 1995 and 2007 the number of Australian Year 12 advanced mathematics students dropped 25 percent. On top of this, university mathematics majors dropped 15 percent between 2001 and 2007, which from my perspective, is the most frightening statistic of all.

"Alarmingly, in 2007, 40 percent of senior maths teachers did not have a three-year university degree in mathematics. Without the proper training in this complex topic, how can we expect our teachers to feel confident championing maths in the classroom?"

Professor Dooley says with a looming skills shortage in the field, maths is even more important than ever.

"With technology, the economy and society changing so rapidly, we need versatile and highly skilled minds to deal with the range of challenges we face. Career-wise, a strong knowledge of maths can already open any number of doors. From engineering and computer sciences, to medical research, mathematics is a core skill for a number of industries. But we soon could be running on empty."

Professor Dooley outlined three key ways to solve the mathematics problem, including raising primary and secondary teaching standards, higher teachers' salaries, and a boost to tertiary funding.

Read the full opinion piece at the Faculty of Science newsroom.

Media contact: Professor Anthony Dooley | 02 9385 7114 |