The importance of high-quality teachers of maths, science and technology is self-evident and cannot be overstated. Yet there are insufficient numbers of teachers willing and able to teach these subjects, particularly at the senior school level, and their quality is highly variable.
A survey published yesterday by the Australian Council of Deans of Science found that one in five maths teachers did not study maths beyond the first year of university and one in 12 did no university maths at all. Statistics for the junior years of high school are even worse. The Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies estimates that as many as 40 per cent of junior secondary maths teachers may not be suitably qualified to teach the subject.
It is just as bad for the physical sciences. Last year’s survey by the Council of Deans of Science found that one in four physics teachers and one in six chemistry teachers had neither a major nor a minor in their subject. But heads of school science departments believe that teachers need at least a minor in their subject to teach it effectively.
The many unqualified and underqualified teachers in maths and science classrooms across the country are the result of all states finding it difficult to get good teachers in these subjects. This is because there are too many obstacles and disincentives, especially pre-service teacher training and uncompetitive salaries.
A high-calibre maths or science graduate has many options and teaching is not one of the most attractive. To become a schoolteacher they face another year of university to gain a diploma of education, with the attendant loss of income. Young people know the salary prospects are initially good but there are no rewards for hard work and excellence.
For someone already working in a maths or science-based profession who