NSW’s Requisite Sense and Nonsense

This one is old, and older, but it should still be done. First off, a couple weeks ago NESA issued a media release, notifying people that mathematics would continue to be optional in NSW senior high school. This was the new Labor government’s killing off of a 2019 Gladys plan to make senior mathematics compulsory. Why the reversal? Because, as we wrote at the time, the original plan was really, really stupid.

The reversal got plenty of support, notably from Greg Ashman, from the University of Sydney’s “mathematics and science ambassador” Adam Spencer, and from Too Much Woo, who supported the original stupidity. But of course not everyone agreed. Contacted by the SMH, AMSI’s Tim Marchant objected with a tired, troglodyte call: “Maffs. Good”. Kim Beswick, UNSW’s Professor of Mathematics Education, also regarded the decision as “sad”:

“You can’t have too much maths, but it has to be taught well.”

To which anyone who is not a religious zealot will respond, “Yes, you damn well can, even if it is taught really well”.

The other NSW prerequisite news was in the other direction, with the University of Sydney announcing a few weeks ago that they would no longer require mathematics as a prerequisite for the majority of the University’s undergraduate degrees, including Science and Commerce, and so forth. Why do this? According to Vice Chancellor Mark Scott, it’s all about “diversity”:

“In line with our commitment to deliver educational experiences that are truly transformative and to ensure a greater diversity of students succeed at the University of Sydney, we’re shifting focus and investing in providing our students with bespoke mathematics support – while removing the potential barrier prerequisites might present when enrolling at Sydney.”

This was echoed by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Education), Joanne Wright:

“Unfortunately, it’s clear it’s harder for some school students to access higher-level mathematics simply because of where they’re from. … Schools in regional and remote locations are significantly less likely to offer advanced and extension mathematics. Our new approach responds to these realities of the student experience today and ensures we’re better equipping students for their university studies and careers.”

“Better equipping” in the sense of not giving a stuff whether the kids enter with the necessary equipment.

Of course the University will then equip the kids, teaching them the school background they require. From which the University will make money, of course, which is what this is really about.

There is something especially charming about employing the cuddly language of diversity to cloak naked greed. We wonder what the University’s mathematics and science ambassador thinks of this nonsense, but he may be too, um, diplomatic to say.

17 Replies to “NSW’s Requisite Sense and Nonsense”

  1. Why on earth is making maths compulsory in senior a stupid idea?! It’s compulsory in Qld and many countries.

    1. Because the “compulsory” part is just reteaching, badly, the basics that the kids didn’t get the previous N years.

        1. It all can be done earlier by any student who can do it in year 12. There is zero argument for making any such subject compulsory in year 12.

        2. But in any case this is a red herring. The argument isn’t about General-or-higher being compulsory. The argument is about Essential-or-higher being compulsory.

    2. Because this is lowering the bar to the point where it becomes difficult to see without tripping over it. Until we see what the curriculum is for any compulsory study, I think it is safe to assume it will not be great.

        1. Maybe more the “I don’t know what it is but there is no reason to believe it differs from the crap I know very well” line of thought.

    3. Because it is teaching descriptive statistics, and mensuration, and ….. for about the fifth year in a row.

  2. The removal of maths prerequisites for tertiary science and engineering courses is a real worry. I see the flow on effect down to Year 10 – ‘Oh I wont do Year 10 Methods primer because I can study Physics at The University of Upper Nowhere with general maths’ – these students will not have the capability to learn Calculus in a 6 week maths bridging course because the moment we tried to push them and get them to step it up a little they opted out. Then high school maths teachers get the blame for declining standards!

    1. I don’t think Sydney removed the prereq for engineering, although it’s pretty standard to remove SM as a prereq. And, yes, it flows on down. The universities, with all the integrity of used car salesmen, couldn’t give a stuff.

      1. Money wins every time.

        More enrolments means more money.

        Then let some low-paid tutors deal with the mess.

  3. I am happy for the maths to be assumed knowledge rather than a prerequisite. This encourages the knowledge without forcing students into formal classes and allows alternative learning apart from school systems.

    1. Assumed knowlege encourages students NOT to do the work at school, regardless of the alternative options.

  4. As far as I know, Mathematics is not compulsory in Years 11 or 12 in VCE. Yet, in 2021, the data suggest that nearly all students in VCE enrolled in some mathematics. Oddly, the VCE Vocational Major (VM) requires at least 2 units of numeracy/mathematics.

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