Future Success of Australian Workforce at Risk From New Maths Curriculum: Minerals Council

By Rebecca Zhu
Rebecca Zhu
Rebecca Zhu
July 12, 2021 Updated: July 12, 2021

The Australian mining industry is concerned that the newly proposed curriculum poses a risk to the prosperity and future success of the workforce.

The Minerals Council of Australia (MCA) is calling on the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) to strengthen the curriculum of STEM subjects.

“The minerals industry needs the best and brightest students with a broad and deep understanding of the world around them to achieve more sustainable and socially valuable outcomes,” said MCA CEO Tania Constable. “Supporting continued success and growth requires a fit for purpose and contemporary national curriculum to support future operational, technical, and professional careers.”

Constable says the draft curriculum changes are “poorly considered” and only serve to weaken the national education criteria.

She also raises concerns about the existing skills shortages in the industry and the need to grow the future workforce.

“As Australia recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, the skills and training needs of both the industry and the future minerals workforce will require close attention, including retraining, and reskilling entrants from other industries affected by COVID-19,” Constable said.

ACARA’s draft for early learning in maths places a greater emphasis on problem-solving and less on rote learning.

New Curriculum Dealt Another Blow As Peak Body Withdraws Support

In April, five of Australia’s education bodies for STEM learning, including the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute (AMSI), signed a joint statement ‘Why Maths Must Change’ (pdf), which endorsed the direction of the new curriculum.

“Instead, the abilities to problem-solve, mathematise, hypothesise, model are all skills that add worth to acquired knowledge,” the statement reads. “Mathematics learning cannot sit in silos that focus on content and procedures. Instead, it must be something that gives the knowledge purpose.”

However, on Thursday, AMSI withdrew their support for the draft and instead voiced its “numerous concerns” about the changes.

“While some AMSI members welcomed a stronger emphasis on problem-solving and inquiry, there was considerable concern that this emphasis comes at the expense of mastery and fluency,” AMSI Director Professor Tim Marchant said. “Mastery of mathematical approaches is needed before student problem solving can be effective.”

In its submission, AMSI said it did not support several changes where the teaching of key mathematical concepts had been delayed or removed.

These changes include pushing back the teaching of how to tell the time from year 1 to year 2, learning to solve linear equations from year 7 to year 8, and the removal of solving linear equations with algebraic fractions in year 10 because it was “not essential.”

“Our expectations for Australian students in the 2020s should not be lower than what was being achieved by the cohort of maths students from 20 years ago,” the AMSI submission said, referring to the fact that the performance of students in the PISA exam has declined by 33 percent—around one year of schooling—since 2003.

Rebecca Zhu
Rebecca Zhu