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Taking maths seriously

September 24, 2010

I just heard recently that there is a crisis in the plumbing profession. Apparently there are not enough plumbers, but an even greater cause for concern is the level of expertise that Australian plumbers have. Around 40% of our plumbers have not taken the sufficient extra training required that enables them to do the more difficult fittings and jobs (e.g., welding flanges, gas points). Yet, a new “paradigm” is being brought in which hopes to change the skill base of our plumbers. This new paradigm is called the “National plumbing standards” which standardises the practice across the states and territories of Australia. Amongst the new changes, some are so significant that one would imagine that many of our plumbers will need re-training. But do you think the government has made sufficient provisions for extra training? If not, do we not make the problem worse? Almost half of our plumbers do not have the sufficient skills to meet the desired outcomes, and only asking them to do more will not help. At the same time, there are less and less plumbers entering the profession. Wouldn’t the average Australian feel anxious about the future of our plumbing work in Australia? What will happen to our houses, buildings and infrastructure if this is allowed to continue? Why are we not doing enough to arrest the problem?

Of course, I’m not talking about plumbing … I’m talking about mathematics and mathematics teaching. The statistics are alarming, but it doesn’t seem to make its way to the public consciousness. Mathematics teaching does not seem to be as serious an issue as the state of plumbing (and I should make it clear that I am not saying that the latter is not important). Just as we should be worried for a potential downward spiral in the quality of plumbing, that we should also be worried about a decrease in the standards of mathematics education and future mathematical skill base.

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