Australia has for many years experienced an undersupply of specialist teachers in schools particularly in the areas of maths, physics and chemistry. According to the ACER Staff Survey conducted in Australia in 2013 more than 20% of secondary maths and 17% of secondary science teachers were underqualified in their field.
This was further echoed by the Australian Education Union’s “The State of our Schools” survey held in 2016 which reported that maths and science are being taught by teachers unqualified in those subjects in more than half of schools nationwide. Queensland came in the highest with 76% of teachers not being a specialist in their teaching subject areas followed by the ACT 67% and WA with 58%.
A positive change however is occurring within the education sector with moves by State governments such as South Australia announcing that from 2020 all new teachers are required to have a Master degree in education and minimum of five years study before they are able to teach in a classroom.
Although it is not yet known if other states will follow suit, the Department of Education in Western Australia has taken steps to encourage more teachers specialising in STEM subjects through the provision of mathematics and science scholarships offered to education students at The University of Western Australia. This year 10 scholarships were awarded to students studying secondary teaching in mathematics or science. Scholarships provided financial support together with an internship at selected government schools.
Initiatives such as these together with a raised awareness of the demand for qualified and high quality teachers in areas such as STEM has had some impact. The University of Western Australia has recently seen a positive growth in student numbers with degrees in areas such as Science and Mathematics undertaking their postgraduate qualifications in teaching. The number of students enrolled into the Master of Teaching and Graduate Diploma in Education with a specialisation in mathematics grew from 10 to 58 in 2016.
Earlier this year The University of Western Australia also experienced its largest student enrolment across its postgraduate initial teacher education courses. To be considered for these courses students must have completed their undergraduate degree in an area of specialisation relevant to the school curriculum.
“Students must have had completed an undergraduate degree with a major relevant to secondary teaching curriculum majors. Graduates of the school will therefore teach in subject areas where they have had comprehensive content knowledge,” says Professor Wildy.
“Not only would this added experience enhance the quality of teaching students receive in their classrooms but it will help raise the status of teaching and education leadership as a highly respected and valued profession.”
President of the Western Australian Secondary School Executives Association (WASSEA) Armando Giglia agrees that having teachers who are subject specialists are better equipped and able to engage students in discussion when they are teaching in a field for which they have a real passion.
“It’s no use engaging students in a discussion on physics if the person leading the discussion struggles to understand the concepts involved, or who stays just one step in front of the students. While teachers are highly skilled professionals – their qualifications tells me that they can teach – they teach better when they are teaching in a field for which they have a real passion. That becomes infectious and can inspire the next generation of scientists, urban land planners or even researchers,” says Mr Giglia.
“Indications are that some secondary teaching areas are now undersupplied. Maths, Science and Computing are the obvious ones, but areas such as Geography and Design and Technology are also experiencing a shortage which is concerning. “