University students ‘do not understand the concept of a decimal point’
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Robert Bolton

First year university undergraduates are so bad at maths professors are dropping the subject from business and statistics courses because students can’t keep up, researchers say.


Maths results from the Program for International Student Assessment have worried Australian educators. GERRY BROOME

Meanwhile, a recent test found a majority of first-year students were incapable of correctly answering a Year 5 school maths question.

The results will be presented at Western Sydney University on Wednesday.

More than 56 per cent of first year students could not answer test questions which included rounding a number to three decimal points and finding 4 per cent of $6000.

Associate professor in mathematics at the Centre for Research in Mathematics and Data Science, at Western Sydney University, Leanne Rylands said some students leaving school clearly did not understand the concept of a decimal point.

The test was done by students who were not studying maths itself but needed it for another course, such as those involving statistics..

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“We’ve been in a 30-year downward spiral. Universities are now teaching school level mathematics. Eventually it becomes too hard for people teaching classes like business studies, so they leave out the maths part.”

Her comments come as COAG education ministers meet in Alice Springs on Wednesday to discuss PISA results which showed Australian 15-year-olds are three years behind in maths than students in the highest performing OECD country, Singapore.

The Federal education minister, Dan Tehan, said he wants the states to sign up to explicit targets in numeracy and literacy and he’ll ask them to agree to bring forward the national curriculum review which wasn’t meant to start until next year.

Victoria said the maths component of the national review should be brought forward.

Victorian education minister, James Merlino said: “I will also be raising the need for university courses to include prerequisites, particularly in maths, in relevant courses such as engineering – a key recommendation of the chief scientist.”

COAG promises to be a tense confrontation after Queensland Labor education minister Grace Grace said she would not sign up to anything without seeing the evidence and warned against reacting to one PISA test.

New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria will argue for reforms to NAPLAN, which they say is not useful in its present structure.

The NAPLAN Review interim report, written by three education experts and released just two days after the PISA results, said the test forced teachers to focus on English and mathematics, “denying the students access to the rich array offered through other subjects”.

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Robert Bolton is the AFR’s education editor. He covers primary and secondary education, universities and training. He was a Washington Correspondent for ABC radio and later Chief European Correspondent. He presented “The Media Report” on Radio National. At The AFR Robert has worked as markets editor, Perspective editor and was editor of the Friday Review section for ten years. Connect with Robert on Twitter. Email Robert at [email protected]

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