By Kay McCullough, Senior Vice Principal
"Mathematics is in a death spiral in Australian schools. Just one in 10 students studied advanced Maths in Year 12 last year. Worse, and more puzzling, is a collapse in girls studying Maths and Science. A gender breakdown shows nationally just 6.6 per cent of girls sat for advanced Mathematics in 2013… Incredibly, in New South Wales a tiny 1.5 per cent of girls take the trio of advanced Maths, Physics and Chemistry." (Mather and Tadros, 2014)
This article echoes the findings of a number of recent reports and highlights the urgent need for schools to find ways of encouraging girls into Maths and Science pathways.
Here at Mentone Girls' Grammar School, the story is much brighter! We continue to have excellent rates of participation in Mathematics at senior levels, as illustrated by these 2015 statistics:
- In Year 10, 26% of the cohort is currently undertaking VCE Unit 1 General Mathematics Specialist as an accelerated pathway.
- In Year 11, 63% are completing the academic pathway of VCE Unit 1 Mathematical Methods, with 29% engaged in VCE Unit 1 General Mathematics Further.
- 90% of our Year 11s are engaged in a VCE Mathematics subject at Unit 1 level.
- In Year 12, 57% of our students are undertaking Unit 3 Mathematical Methods and 55% are taking Unit 3 Further Mathematics. Some are undertaking both Mathematical Methods and Further Mathematics, and 10% of the cohort have selected the most advanced dual maths pathway of Methods plus Specialist.
At 10%, our participation rate in Specialist Mathematics is a little higher than the national average for advanced Mathematics, but our stand-out 57% in Maths Methods is three times the national average of 19% (girls and boys) participating in ‘intermediate Mathematics’ according to the ASMI study released in 2014. While enrolments vary from year to year, high rates of participation in senior Mathematics subjects are the norm, rather than the exception at our School. Our girls value Mathematics and they have learned that they can experience success in the subject from the formative years of their schooling. Put simply, our girls do Maths!
While individual decision making about subjects is complex, we believe that many of our practices encourage our students to continue their studies in Mathematics at school to the highest level. Firstly, in our Junior School we embrace and promote mathematical understanding through explicit teaching of concepts in varied contexts, as part of our inquiry-based program under the International Baccalaureate’s Primary Years Programme (PYP). Through the middle years of schooling we provide advanced classes in mathematical problem-solving as extension and classroom programs. Maths competitions are popular across the School. Our expert teachers’ personalised approaches to teaching and learning scaffold and extend students’ mathematical understanding, empowering them to continue their Maths journey. Our recent past Head of Mathematics, Mrs Maria Spaziani and our new Head, Mrs Jessica Mount, are both Old Girls of the School and both terrific role models for our students. Careers education reinforces the importance of Mathematics in career planning by emphasising the belief that many new jobs, including those that have not yet been invented, will require a Mathematics background. We also have weekly after-school Maths tutorial sessions open to any student who wants some assistance.
Finally, our all-girls’ environment combined with our teaching and learning approaches that are tailored specifically to girls’ needs, provide the pedagogy, encouragement and general affirmation that Mentone girls can, and should do Maths.
Mather J & Tadros, E (7 June 2014) Australia's Maths Crisis in Australian Financial Review (AFR) Weekend, available online at http://www.afr.com/news/policy/education/australias-maths-crisis-20140606-iwfn1
ASMI (2014) Participation in Year 12 mathematics 2004 – 2014, available online at http://amsi.org.au/publications/participation-year-12-mathematics-2004-2013/