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October 03rd 2013 print

Roger Franklin

New math: Indigenous integers meet Asian algebra

Three boomerangs plus eight dot paintings divided by four Confucian scholars sharing an abacus to estimate rising global temperatures equals .... the new approach to teaching mathematics

If parents wonder why their kids need tutors, despite the billions being poured into education, it might have something to do with the way teachers are instructed to go about the business of shaping young minds.

What follows are excerpts, presented verbatim, from the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority website (ACARA) outlining how mathematics is to be taught and absorbed.

First comes ACARA’s vision:

“In the Australian Curriculum these have become priorities that provide students with the tools and language to engage with and better understand their world at a range of levels. The priorities provide dimensions which will enrich the curriculum through development of considered and focused content that fits naturally within learning areas. They enable the delivery of learning area content at the same time as developing knowledge, understanding and skills relating to:

►Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures
►Asia and Australia’s engagement with Asia

Now the specifics:

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and culture

“….The Australian Curriculum: Mathematics values Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures. It provides opportunities for students to appreciate that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander societies have sophisticated applications of mathematical concepts.

Students will explore connections between representations of number and pattern and how they relate to aspects of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures. They will investigate time, place, relationships and measurement concepts in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander contexts. Students will deepen their understanding of the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples through the application and evaluation of statistical data.”

Asia and Australia’s engagement with Asia

“In the Australian Curriculum: Mathematics, the priority of Asia and Australia’s engagement with Asia provides rich and engaging contexts for developing students’ mathematical knowledge, skills and understanding.

The Australian Curriculum: Mathematics provides opportunities for students to learn about the understandings and applications of Mathematics in Asia. Mathematicians from Asia continue to contribute to the ongoing development of Mathematics.

In this learning area, students develop mathematical understanding in fields such as number, patterns, measurement, symmetry and statistics by drawing on knowledge of and examples from the Asia region. These could include calculation, money, art, architecture, design and travel.  Investigations involving data collection, representation and analysis can be used to examine issues pertinent to the Asia region.”

Of course, no modern mathematics syllabus is complete until kids’ have been given a good rinse in green ideology:


“Across the Australian Curriculum, sustainability will allow all young Australians to develop the knowledge, skills, values and world views necessary for them to act in ways that contribute to more sustainable patterns of living. It will enable individuals and communities to reflect on ways of interpreting and engaging with the world. The Sustainability priority is futures-oriented, focusing on protecting environments and creating a more ecologically and socially just world through informed action. Actions that support more sustainable patterns of living require consideration of environmental, social, cultural and economic systems and their interdependence.

In the Australian Curriculum: Mathematics, the priority of sustainability provides rich, engaging and authentic contexts for developing students’ abilities in number and algebra, measurement and geometry, and statistics and probability.

The Australian Curriculum: Mathematics provides opportunities for students to develop the proficiencies of problem solving and reasoning essential for the exploration of sustainability issues and their solutions. Mathematical understandings and skills are necessary to measure, monitor and quantify change in social, economic and ecological systems over time. Statistical analysis enables prediction of probable futures based on findings and helps inform decision making and actions that will lead to preferred futures.

In this learning area, students can observe, record and organise data collected from primary sources over time and analyse data relating to issues of sustainability from secondary sources. They can apply spatial reasoning, measurement, estimation, calculation and comparison to gauge local ecosystem health and can cost proposed actions for sustainability.”

Education Minister Christopher Pyne was recently quoted as sayinghe had not yet set to work in earnest on reforming ACARA, which has 117 full-time and 22 part-time staff.

As an old-school mathematician might put it: Minister, it’s past time to extract the digit.

Roger Franklin is the editor of Quadrant Online. Thanks to Sister Leo he can do sums and long division, although calculus and trigonometry remain wreathed in mystery