Social sciences support for maths education

10 March 2010

Joint media release from The Council for the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences and The Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia

The Council for the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences today welcomed the Group of Eight’s Review of Education in Mathematics, Data Science and Quantitative Disciplines, and its frank acknowledgement of the problems caused by the fall in mathematics participation at Australian schools and universities.

The report, written for the Group of Eight by Professor Gavin Brown AO FAA, says “the state of the mathematical sciences and related quantitative disciplines in Australia has deteriorated to a dangerous level, and continues to deteriorate.”

The Academy of Social Sciences in Australia also welcomed the report. The Academy supported action to boost the statistical and mathematical literacy in Australia.

CHASS Board member, criminologist and statistician Professor Ross Homel AO FASSA says this review highlights the importance of a strong mathematics education for the social sciences. “It warns of the impact of drastically low levels of engagement with mathematics from primary school through to tertiary level on the quality of future research based upon statistical and quantitative analysis in the social sciences.”

“Mathematical ability is deeply embedded in the statistical and quantitative analysis at the heart of many social science disciplines,” Professor Homel says.

Former Australian Statistician and Chairman of the Policy and Advocacy Committee of the Academy of Social Sciences of Australia, Dennis Trewin AO FASSA, fully supported Professor Homel’s comments and highlighted the need to also inform parents and teachers of the importance of a good grounding in mathematics to a range of career choices, including those related to the social sciences. “Parents and teachers have strong influences on student’s choices,” he said.

Part of any endeavour to get kids interested in maths is to demonstrate its relevancy in the jobs market.

CHASS has suggested that more engagement in communications and training programs in education by, for example, economists, finance sector professionals, demographers, criminologists, sociologists, geographers and designers could raise awareness of the value of mathematics and statistics beyond the traditional science areas including physics and engineering. Professor Homel says Australia faces shortages of statisticians and researchers with skills to model major policy and industry innovation.

The Council believes all levels and parts of the education sector have a responsibility in this. It agrees with the review that primary level teachers must have the essential mathematical knowledge to share with their pupils and the research intensive universities should make “enabling” mathematics courses available at a tertiary level.

“Enabling programs designed for budding social scientists may help the situation in the short term,” Professor Homel says.

“Given that the review reports that demand for mathematics and statistics graduates is predicted to grow by 3.5% per year till 2013, there is no time to lose.”

Contact for Information:
Ms Helen O’Neil
Executive Director
Ph: (02) 6201 2740