Fewer than one in four Australian high school students have a qualified maths teacher, and the situation is about to get worse, with a projected boom in student numbers following a 30-year decline in the supply of new maths-trained teachers.
“The current difficulties with out-of-field teaching, and meeting the needs of increased enrolments, is compounded by Australia not having prepared enough mathematics teachers for years,” a report published in the Sydney Morning Herald by the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute has found.
About 75 per cent of students in years 7 to 10 are already being taught maths for at least one year by a teacher not trained in the subject area and the situation is set to worsen, with an expected 650,000 extra students across the country by 2026.
The report’s co-author Jan Thomas, a senior fellow at AMSI, said programs to retrain existing teachers in maths are long overdue and are now likely the only way left to address the shortage.
“It’s now past when the government should have done something and the only way we can get more qualified teachers into schools quickly is to retrain existing teachers in other areas who are already being asked to teach maths.”
Ms Thomas said any successful programs would need to be broken into small, flexible units that could be combined to make up a qualification and be completed during breaks in teaching periods.
AMSI’s director Tim Brown said the problem will continue getting worse as students now being taught maths by out-of-field teachers enter university.
Professor Brown said the issue is an urgent one that AMSI will raise with the federal government after next week’s election.
“It’s obviously a matter for state and territory governments too but it’s something that needs to be done at the national level and should have happened a long time ago,” Professor Brown said.