Specialist maths and science teachers will be pushed into NSW primary school classrooms under a plan by the NSW government to arrest the state's plummeting results.
On Monday, NSW Premier Mike Baird and Education Minister Adrian Piccoli announced that traditionally generalist primary school teachers would have the opportunity to be transformed into STEM specialists, as the NSW economy seeks to future-proof itself for growth in the science and technology areas.
"I think we have lost our way a bit in Australia with mathematics," Mr Piccoli said at Brookvale Primary School. "We need to develop a love of these subjects in primary schools so they can go onto higher level maths on high school and university."
The announcement, which will see the Board of Studies partner with UTS, Macquarie University and the University of Sydney to deliver hundreds of specialist STEM teachers into NSW classrooms, comes as more than a million students prepare to sit the final paper-only NAPLAN exams across the country on Tuesday.
According to 2015 NAPLAN data, the youngest NSW schoolchildren start their examination careers up to eight mean points behind their Year 3 Victorian and ACT counterparts in numeracy. At the same time, the number of students sitting no maths at all for their HSC has tripled from 5 per cent in 2003 to more than 15 per cent in 2014.
Internationally, Australia sits behind Vietnam, Poland and Estonia on maths in the latest round of the PISA tests.
Mr Baird warned that if NSW did not get ahead of the pack in science and maths its future economy would falter.
"Technology is going to grow at seven times the traditional economy over the next 15 years," he said."These kids are right at the forefront of where the economy is going and the skills going in today is going to make a difference tomorrow."
While pressure is building on the NSW government to ensure its students have the skills of the future, educators are concerned that school students as young as six could be strained under the weight of new plans from the federal government to introduce national reading, phonics and numeracy tests to year 1 classrooms. ( If they win the election)
Educators have warned that if the proposal was to be enforced it could have a negative effect on the learning outcomes of young children.
Dr Rachel Wilson from the University of Sydney said that concerns of over-testing children through NAPLAN-like assessments needed to be addressed as a matter of urgency.
"Although national assessment programs are helpful for education systems, the way NAPLAN is currently delivered engenders a lot of stress among children, teachers and parents alike," she said.
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