Kennedy, John; Lyons, Terry; Quinn, Frances
June 2014
Teaching Science: The Journal of the Australian Science Teachers;Jun2014, Vol. 60 Issue 2, p34
Academic Journal
Is there a crisis in Australian science and mathematics education? Declining enrolments in upper secondary Science and Mathematics courses have gained much attention from the media, politicians and high-profile scientists over the last few years, yet there is no consensus amongst stakeholders about either the nature or the magnitude of the changes. We have collected raw enrolment data from the education departments of each of the Australian states and territories from 1992 to 2012 and analysed the trends for Biology, Chemistry, Physics, two composite subject groups (Earth Sciences and Multidisciplinary Sciences), as well as entry, intermediate and advanced Mathematics. The results of these analyses are discussed in terms of participation rates, raw enrolments and gender balance. We have found that the total number of students in Year 12 increased by around 16% from 1992 to 2012 while the participation rates for most Science and Mathematics subjects, as a proportion of the total Year 12 cohort, fell (Biology (-10%), Chemistry (-5%), Physics (-7%), Multidisciplinary Science (-5%), intermediate Mathematics (-11%), advanced Mathematics (-7%) in the same period. There were increased participation rates in Earth Sciences (+0.3%) and entry Mathematics (+11%). In each case the greatest rates of change occurred prior to 2001 and have been slower and steadier since. We propose that the broadening of curriculum offerings, further driven by students' self-perception of ability and perceptions of subject difficulty and usefulness, are the most likely cause of the changes in participation. While these continuing declines may not amount to a crisis, there is undoubtedly serious cause for concern.


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