Students in WA can choose from three ATAR maths subjects ranging in difficulty from Mathematics Applications (easiest), to Mathematics Methods (intermediate) and Mathematics Specialist (highest level).
Professor Alec Cameron, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Education at The University of Western Australia, said it was difficult to compare old and new mathematics subjects.
“However, interim enrolment figures provided by the School Curriculum and Standards Authority indicate to us that in 2016 the proportion of Year 12 students enrolled in medium or higher level mathematics has dropped dramatically to almost half that of the previous year,” Professor Cameron said.
Current rules governing the construction of the ATAR, set by WA’s four public universities, did not take course difficulty into consideration, he said.
“This means that students with a reasonable level of ability in maths are choosing the easier Mathematics Applications course instead of Mathematics Methods to achieve a perceived ATAR advantage,” he said.
“We all agree there is an urgent need to put in place clear and reasonable incentives for students to choose the highest level of mathematics appropriate to their aptitude and future aspirations.
“At that point when students are selecting their ATAR subjects, we need to highlight the importance of high-level mathematics competence not only for future studies but to boost future employment options.”
The universities recognise the need to encourage and reward students capable of studying mathematics at a more advanced level as science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills become increasingly important within the workforce.
Business groups consistently identify poor numeracy skills as barriers to employment and productivity growth generally. A recent report by the Productivity Commission found almost one-quarter of Australians were capable of only basic mathematics, such as counting.
Professor Cameron said recent research found 60 per cent of the jobs linked to current courses of study would not exist in the future.
“All aspects of the education system need to be ready for change and embrace it to ensure that the students of today and tomorrow are academically prepared for the future,” he said.
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