Victoria to introduce new VCE maths subject
Foundation maths is available now only to year 11 students and is the easiest VCE maths subject in that year. It covers topics such as data, measurement, and space, shape and design.
Students who study foundation maths can continue to further maths in year 12, which was the second most commonly studied subject among this year’s graduates.
Under this proposal, students will be able to continue foundation maths in year 12, studying topics including empirical data, earth geometry, and practical applications of probability.
The new subject will be carefully designed to discourage students from downgrading their maths study.
Victoria is not the only state to widen its maths offer to senior students. NSW has announced plans to make maths compulsory for year 11 students, but stopped short of making it compulsory for the HSC. It is also trialling an HSC numeracy course that focuses on budgeting, shopping, and account-keeping.
The Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority evaluates VCE subjects every five years, and said its decision to extend foundation maths to year 12 followed best practice both in Australia and worldwide.
Consultation will continue next year and a revised study design is expected in 2021. This suggests the year 12 subject will not be in classrooms until at least 2022.
Tim Brown, director of the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute, said while many experts believed it was important for students to study maths all the way through school, the country was desperately short of qualified maths teachers.
“I’d hope it was taught really well,” Professor Brown said. “Some of the most challenging teaching that I’ve done during my long career is teaching statistics to people who don’t want to learn it … You really have to understand the heart of the matter in order to be able to explain things.”
Professor Brown also said expanding foundation maths would not arrest the worrying decline of students studying higher level maths – specialist maths – in year 12.
The percentage of Australian students enrolled in higher mathematics in year 12 fell to 9.4 per cent in 2017, its lowest recorded level in two decades, the institute found this year.
The latest PISA results – the world’s largest assessment of numeracy, literacy and science skills – showed Australian students’ performance in maths fell to the OECD average for the first time.
In addition, the average 15-year-old Australian student is now 3.5 years behind the average Chinese student who sat the test, and more than a year behind where Australia was in 2003.
Madeleine Heffernan edits The Age’s Monday education page