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3AW Drive interview with Tom Elliott

Ministers:

The Hon Alan Tudge MP
Minister for Education and Youth

TOM ELLIOTT:

Well Alan Tudge, the Federal Education Minister, joins us now. Mr Tudge, good afternoon.

ALAN TUDGE: 

G'day Tom.

TOM ELLIOTT: 

Now, I know there's many reasons why we are falling behind in maths and science; we don't have enough teachers, kids learn in funny ways these days. We've thrown out the old ways of doing sums and invented new ones which in my view don't work. How are you going to fix all this?

ALAN TUDGE: 

Well first up, it's not just that we've fallen behind in maths and science, we've also fallen behind in reading as well. Right across the board in terms of the international tests, Australian students are now about a year behind where they were 20 years ago at the same stage, which is quite remarkable. And we've fallen down those global rankings as well. Now, as you say there's a number of reasons for that. The key thing now is how do we get back up and be one of those top groups and nations once again. And certainly, what I launched today, Tom, was a review of initial teacher education, you know the teacher courses where students go to become a teacher. And that's certainly a big part of it, because we need to ensure that we attract the best and brightest into teaching, and that they get taught effective ways to teach and to manage classrooms so that when they come out the other side, they can hit the ground running.

TOM ELLIOTT: 

But Mr Tudge, isn't part of your problem there though, you can have the best trained teachers in the world so they go through teaching college and they learn how to give kids the strap and all that sort of thing. I'm not sure if they do that these days but anyway.

ALAN TUDGE: 

No, they don't do that anymore Tom.

TOM ELLIOTT: 

No, but I mean if they didn't do much maths at school, they're still not going to be a good maths teacher.

ALAN TUDGE: 

That is certainly one of the key problems in mathematics, in terms of where we've declined the most over the last 20 years, and the most relative to other countries is in maths. And one of our problems is an insufficient number of teachers who have got maths backgrounds. And so, you'll sort of see it's hard to get the hard data on this but at least many schools are really lacking any teachers who have got great maths skills.

TOM ELLIOTT: 

So how do we, so doesn't that mean we have to go back further, and rather than just wait 'till the applicants get to teacher college, we've got to, sort of, go back to the schools and say: how do we - well, maybe it's chicken and egg. But how do we get more kids to do maths?

ALAN TUDGE: 

Yeah, well I think there's a few things that we can do there. One is that I think we can be better at attracting people who have got good maths to study to be a teacher. And that can be out of school. But importantly, I think it can be mid-career people as well. You know, they might be accountants at the moment, or engineers, or some other profession which has a strong maths background. And we need to make it attractive for them to want to retrain and become a teacher. One of the ways that we can make it more attractive, for example, is to fast track them into teaching rather than the minimum at the moment is a two-year master's degree. And many courses are four years. Now that becomes a real impediment for a mid-career person to go into teaching.

TOM ELLIOTT: 

Then tell me, is your other problem that you've got every state and territory has its own way of teaching things, over which you have little control? So, you've sort of got not one, but half a dozen different maths curriculums out there?

ALAN TUDGE: 

To some extent, that's true. There is a national curriculum now, which sets at a higher-level what people are expected to learn by when. And one of the things that we are doing right now is reviewing that mathematics curriculum, and I've said that we should be benchmarking that curriculum with the world's best. Now the world's best in mathematics is probably Singapore. A 15-year-old in Singapore is about three years above the average 15-year-old in Australia in mathematics. I just find that an incredible statistic. And so, let's benchmark ourselves against Singapore and see if we can gradually improve our standards in mathematics over time. I also think, Tom, there's things we can in the classroom right now which are better. You know, some teachers who don't have that mathematics confidence, they can be supported through terrific online products these days as well, particularly, you know you look at things like the Khan Academy material, which have been around for a while now. A fantastic material. And I know that many kids, you might've had this with your own kids, instead of going to you and asking oh dad, how do I these math problems? they'll go online to Khan Academy and find the material.

TOM ELLIOTT: 

My experience has been actually to teach them modern maths, which is different from the old maths, even though the old maths worked fine. I've had to go online, do some of these little courses - oh, course is too strong a word - but do some online learning to re-educate myself in the new way to do it. Hey, were you any good at maths at school?

ALAN TUDGE: 

Yeah, I was, Tom. I was, Tom. I was good at maths at school.

TOM ELLIOTT: 

Right, okay. Do you think we can back to rote learning the timestables?

ALAN TUDGE: 

I do think that things like the times tables are absolutely critical as foundational mathematical concepts, and that you can't do further creative thinking on top of that without those fundamental basics. And that does just require rote learning. That's what I did when I was at school. You would have done the same. 

TOM ELLIOTT: 

We did. The teacher would pick a number each morning and the whole class had to recite like six or seven, or eight, or nine times, whatever it was. And if anybody got it wrong, they were punished. And that was back at the tail end of corporal punishment.

ALAN TUDGE: 

I remember when I was at school, we had a game where a pack of cards, and it was almost like a cricket match. If you're the batsman, and then kids would come along with a couple sets of cards. No, you'd have one set of cards and they'd have a different set of cards. You flip the card and have to do the times tables of those two numbers. And you stayed there until someone got you out and then someone else went in.

TOM ELLIOTT: 

Well, see this is the sort of thinking we need to go back to. Alright, well good luck with it. I mean it's a serious issue and we are falling behind. Imagine that, we're three years behind the Singaporean students; three years! Alan Tudge, Federal Education Minister, who by his own admission was very good at maths.