Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne has put forward a proposal to enforce study of a maths or science subject in Year 12. The plan has already been rejected by Labor state education ministers and has sparked plenty of debate over the potential pros and cons of compulsory study in these areas. We take a look at what the changes would mean for your child, as well as some of the arguments on both sides.
The current system
In Queensland, students must study one maths subject in Years 11 and 12, while students in Victoria, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory are able to drop the subject in their senior years, although individual schools may enforce their own requirements. Many countries, including New Zealand, Singapore, Taiwan and China, make maths study mandatory through to the end of secondary school. At the moment, 80 per cent of Australian students study maths in their final year of school, although many of these students only study it at a basic level.
- Allows students to keep future options open: Behind English, maths and science subjects are some of the most common prerequisites for university degrees, with one or more of these subjects often required for entry into fields such as engineering, science, health and some business specialisations. Students who are still trying to decide what they want to study after school may benefit from keeping their options open.
- Addresses skills shortages: It is hoped that exposing students to maths and science subjects in their senior years may encourage students to pursue study in these areas at tertiary level. This would help address a growing skills shortage in these areas, with the government predicting that up to 75 per cent of Australia’s fastest-growing industries will require skills in science, technology, engineering or maths.
- May boost Australia’s international standing: The most recent Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report shows that Australia’s performance in maths and science has fallen over the past decade, with maths results dropping by the equivalent of half a year of schooling between 2003 and 2012. In the global rankings, Australia fell from 15th to 19th in maths and 10th to 16th in science between the 2009 and 2012 reports.
- May impact final results: In order to perform well in end-of-year results, students need to choose subjects that they are good at. If science or maths were to become compulsory in Year 12, it could have a negative impact on the final results of students who happen to struggle in these areas. Schools would need to offer a range of maths and science subjects at a variety of levels to cater to all abilities.
- Leaves less room for choice: With English already a compulsory subject in all states and territories, adding another mandatory subject to the Year 12 curriculum further restricts the number of elective subjects students can choose. This may mean that students miss out on the chance to study a particular subject of interest in their final years.
- Maths and science should be chosen, not forced: Many have argued that instead of making these subjects compulsory, there should be a greater focus on making science and maths engaging and exciting to students, so they want to study these subjects in their senior years and beyond.
- The parents’ guide to senior subject choices
- Understanding the school curriculum in New South Wales
- Understanding the school curriculum in Queensland
- Understanding the school curriculum in Victoria