• Robert MacCulloch

Mathematics and NZ's Future

Today one of New Zealand's best ever mathematicians, Vaughan Jones, has died. I met up with him several years ago and he turned up in bare feet. I was much impressed. For a brief summary of his life and outstanding contributions to the subject, see:

How is this news relevant to NZ's future? Well, our politicians are presently debating, as part of the election campaign, whether the country can develop more of a green, knowledge-based economy the next few decades. A key subject required to achieve such a goal is mathematics.

Yet schools are struggling greatly to recruit specialized maths teachers. Some of our countries leading mathematicians tell me that the problem is the pay structure. Gifted maths teachers can command high earnings in professions outside teaching, so need to be especially well remunerated compared to most other teachers to stay at a school. However teacher pay structures do not typically allow for such flexibility. What's the result of not sorting out this problem? New Zealand’s international test scores in maths have been on a decade-long downward trend, as measured by the OECD.

It's not a small problem. Without sorting out the maths teacher crisis, we're unlikely to ever become a "knowledge based", high wage economy. Not a single one of our politicians has addressed this issue on the campaign trail.