The conversations of life

Our kids, our maths and our science results. Parents, we have a problem


This week the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) released its results and Australian kids had made no improvement since 1995 – that is 21 years – while other countries bolted past us.

Bad enough that we are being surpassed but when you look closely at the results it doesn’t look good for the future for a large number of our kids when maths and science are increasingly the base for our digital world, in work and in play.

For 14-year-olds in Year 8 Maths, 12 per cent of all students have ‘very little understanding of numbers’. Just 32 per cent ‘can apply their knowledge and understanding in a variety of relatively complex tasks’.

It is easy to blame the teachers – and fair given the decreasing academic standard required to enter teaching at university.

Family is key

However we parents have to shoulder quite a large part of the responsibility. We have to provide an environment that encourages kids to think and learn.

TIMSS has identified that the number of books a family has in the home has a significant correlation with maths results. 72 per cent of Year 4 student in a ‘books’ household achieved ‘proficient’ as a score, while just 51 per cent of students achieved this from ‘non book’ homes.

The message – we parents have to invest in the environment we provide our kids and books are still valuable compared to iPads and Google.

And it’s not money. Federal Education Minister, Simon Birmingham, pointed out this week that federal education funding increased by 50 per cent in the past 10 years. It is just as much family.

A practising aged care physiotherapist for the past 13 years, Jill has worked in more than 50 metropolitan and regional aged care homes. She has also toured care facilities across the US and Africa. She is a passionate advocate for both the residents in aged care and the staff that serve them.

Discussion1 Comment

  1. Your comment:

    It is easy to blame the teachers – and fair given the decreasing academic standard required to enter teaching at university.

    Is clearly based on hearsay and conjecture. As an individual who has just finished studying education (whilst working in Aged Care), I can assure you that the academic standard of the Education courses at University are sufficiently high.

    Your further comment that the high correlation between the number of books in the house and a students aptitude for number does NOT mean that more books = better maths skills. What it means is that parents who actively engage with books tend to actively encourage their children to engage mathematically in the world around them. I can assure you that there would be a similar correlation between parents with moderate to high levels of income and children with better maths skills.

    Teaching numeracy skills, including simple things like place value and subitisation, is not an easy thing to do. It is a lot like learning how to speak a language. Some people pick it up very easily, whereas others ‘just don’t get it.’ In our large classrooms, it is quite a daunting thing for a student to seek help about working out something that they cannot even comprehend. Hence, there will be many students who can reach the right answer by following a formula, but do not understand why the formula is there, or why they are trying to work out the answer at all.

    I guess all I am saying is that this is a big issue, and neither the problem, nor the solution can be explained in a couple of concise paragraphs.

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