High school students abandoning maths and science

Posted October 23, 2013, by Andrea Riddell

In high school, I dropped maths as soon as I could. Science, I didn’t even pick up in the first place. Instead, I turned to other subjects that interested me more such as English, Art, Business Studies and PDHPE.

It turns out that I was just one of many students turning their backs on maths and science, according to a recent study by the University of Sydney. 

The report shows that Australia is in danger of falling further behind in international educational benchmarks – at present year 10 students rank 13th internationally in maths and seventh in science – as numbers show a decline in students studying maths and science combinations in their HSC. 

The Sydney University researchers, honorary Associate Professor John Mack, Dr Rachel Wilson and the late Barry Walsh, recommend an urgent review of HSC policy to include the reinstatement of maths and science as compulsory subjects to curb this trend.

‘Reintroducing compulsory maths and science subjects is necessary to help safeguard Australia’s future prosperity, with these subjects at the centre of 21st century skills’, says Dr Wilson.

‘That seems like quite a steep requirement, but we must remember that it was in place until 2001. Even with the reinstatement of these subjects, we are still behind current international benchmarks in terms of the sorts of curriculum covered for high school graduation.’

Research found that in 2011, 16.2 per cent of students went on to study maths alongside at least one science subject in the HSC, compared with 18.3 per cent in 2001. With an increase in the number of students sitting the HSC, these statistics show a worrying decline.

The authors are also calling for universities to reintroduce maths and science as HSC prerequisites for entry into selected degree programs. 

While my subject choices were enough to get me into a journalism degree, researchers are worried that students looking to study maths, science and engineering at a tertiary level may fall behind in their first year subjects. 

For me, maths and science were subjects that I struggled with and, ultimately, didn’t enjoy. But as I was never destined for the life of an engineer or scientist, I knew that I was not harming my career options by omitting them from my studies. 

But perhaps the question needs to be raised: why are fewer students taking on these subjects? Perhaps it’s the curriculum that needs reviewing instead of the policy.

What are your thoughts? Do you think maths and science should be compulsory? Leave a comment below. 

Andrea Riddell

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