Research looks at drop in maths take-up

Research looks at drop in maths take-up

04 Mar 2011

Students in years 8 and 10 at schools in Melbourne’s northern suburbs will participate in a La Trobe University study that asks why less and less students are taking up mathematics electives in years 11 and 12.

maths_stdThe study, supervised by Bendigo academic Dr Penelope Collet and supported by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, is to be undertaken by PhD Student Maree Arelette. Mrs Arelette’s research aims to establish a link between how students’ early experiences of success or failure in the classroom impacts on their motivation and ability to succeed in maths.

‘Maths opens many doors for young people. It is a prerequisite for many courses and it teaches skills that are invaluable in the workplace and indeed in everyday life,’ said Mrs Arelette.

‘However there is a consistent trend that sees students avoid maths in VCE and lose interest in earlier years.’

While the percentage of students taking Year 12 mathematics in Australia has remained at about the same level over the time period 1995 - 2006, the percentages of students taking Mathematics Methods and Specialist Mathematics has dropped by 22% and 26% respectively with more students at Year 12 taking General Mathematics.

In 2006 21.3% of Year 12 students studied Math Methods (or equivalent subject) compared with 27.2% in 1995 and 10.4% studied Specialist Maths in 2006 compared with 14.4% in 1995. Students need to take at least one of these subjects in Year 12 in order to study mathematics at a tertiary level.

Mrs Arelette said there is a growing need for maths subjects in everyday life given our ever increasing technological society.

The OECD average for university graduates in mathematics or statistics is 1% of graduates; for Australia only 0.4% of graduates have qualifications in these critical disciplines.

The objective of this study is to ascertain the relationship between students’ self- assessment, mathematics achievement and their decisions about maths subjects in senior years.

Mrs Arelette hopes to have her research published and used in schools to improve students’ attitudes to and interest in mathematics and result in more students opting for maths in VCE.

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