Maths and Science are viewed as important in Australian schools. Yet Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), revealed results have not improved for Australian students since 1995. Science and Mathematics face some of the most entrenched gender divisions of senior secondary school subjects across Australia, with girls refusing to take up the ”hard” subjects such as Physics and Advanced Mathematics in favour of softer courses such as psychology and biology. For example, less than one-quarter of year 12 Physics students by girls, according to a research report by the Group of Eight universities.

On the other hand, in some strongly disadvantaged communities there are no Specialist Teachers in Mathematics or Science. The Australian Academy of Science says there has been a decline in the number of students studying Science, Technology and Mathematics both in senior secondary years of school and at university. “Therefore, in order for Australian students to be motivated to train in these professions…they need to have a solid background in science education before age of fourteen, and they have to be excited by it,” Professor Julie Campbell said.

Victorian VCE students have moved away from Physics and the more difficult Mathematics subjects in the past decade, increasing concern about student disengagement and raising the issue of a lack of specialist teachers. However, enrolments in the easier Mathethematics subject, Further Mathematics, have grown from under 40 per cent in 2001 to more than 58 per cent recently. One suggested reason for the shift away from the more challenging maths subjects is that universities had changed their prerequisites.

Test results show a growing gap between Tasmanian teenagers and those on the mainland. More than half of the state’s students fell below the national baseline for Mathematics, compared to 42 per cent nationally. According to Dr Ben Jensen, the situation needs huge political will or we are going to get the situation in the future whereby Tasmania becomes a state of high unemployment, high poverty and high inter-generational inequality.

A study by the Australian Academy of Science shows Australian high school students have abandoned Science over the past couple of decades. There is already evidence the declining appetite for science is having a negative impact, and there is no sign the downward trend will end. Australia’s then chief scientist told AM the trend may put the future prosperity of the nation at risk and it needs to be addressed. Twenty years ago, 94 per cent of year 11 and 12 students were enrolled in science subjects, but recently the figure dropped to 51 per cent.

Figures from the Federal Education Department concerning the number of students studying Science have been related globally. Professor Denis Goodrum said that Australia’s place has slipped in a global comparison of the scientific literacy of students. To mitigate this, the president of the then Australian Science Teachers Association, said that the new national curriculum will need to engage students at a younger age. The study commissioned by Australia’s chief scientist, Professor Ian Chubb made eight recommendations including reducing the content of science subjects to a realistic level and improving ongoing training for Science Teachers.


Australian high school students placed equal 17th in School Mathematics achievement and equal 8th in Science, according to research conducted by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) for the OECD (Dr .Thomson).

The results show Australian students have slipped in Mathematics performance by about a half a year of schooling compared to 10 years ago.

How the states/territories rated:




ACT 518 534 525
NSW 509 526 513
VICTORIA 501 518 517
QLD 503 519 508
SA 489 513 500
WA 516 535 519
TAS 478 500 485
NT 452 483 466
AUST 504 521 512
Shanghai 613 580 570


(Research done by Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) for the OECD)


About the Author

PhD in European Languages and Cultures (specialising in Literary Translation) Department of International Studies Macquarie University