My talk to Heads of Maths Departments

On Monday, after my early 9 am class, I drove up to Sydney’s North Shore all the way to Wahroonga. I was slated to give a talk at Knox Grammar School to 70 or 80 Heads of Independent High School Maths Departments from around NSW, on the subject of “National Curriculum Issues and opportunities for revitalizing geometrical thinking in the classroom”, which I admit is a rather long-winded title.

I had been invited by Joshua Harnwell, a teacher there, who I had met in an earlier Board of Studies meeting, also about these ghastly new mathematics curricula proposed by ACARA, the national group entrusted with coming up with a syllabus for maths education around the country.

Knox Grammar is a lovely old-money private school set in the affluent suburbs of Sydney. There are a lot of such around, quite a difference from Canada where I grew up, where almost everyone except close friends of the Duke of Buckingham (or some such) just went to the nearest local high school, which was invariably a public school. Meaning it was free, and open to all who lived in the area. Although Australia prides itself on its egalitarianism, there is in some curious way quite a lot more class differentiation here than in Canada where I was raised, although perhaps I am just getting older and wiser to such things. In particular there are so many private schools in Oz that the public school system languishes a bit for funds, and there is an unhealthy divide educationally. Growing up where I did, my default view is that governments have an obligation to level the educational playing field as much as possible.

Not to say anything against Knox, a lovely school; and they put on a really fine lunch for us in a high-ceilinged glass-enclosed foyer, with a fine view of the spacious grounds. I had pleasant conversation with some high school heads over our salmon, talking about the merits of GeoGebra and other dynamic software packages.

After lunch I gave my talk, recorded for posterity since I had brought my trusty Sony video camera with me. So in case you weren’t there, and you are interested in the topics, which are quite important from my point of view, you can find the video and pdf of the talk at

One of the side points I made was that we need to rethink, or rather the media ought to rethink, the ranking system used to score the Olympics. Turns out that was related to some of the geometry I talked about, and maybe next time I’ll tell you about that.

In any case I enjoyed the opportunity to talk to high school teachers about something important; it feels good to get out of the ivory tower of academia every so often.

2 thoughts on “My talk to Heads of Maths Departments

  1. Dr Neena Joshi

    I had been teaching Mathematics for the past 42 years in Bombay, India, and have been a Chairperson of the Board Of Studies in Mathematics, in the University of Bombay, India. This is the body which is responsible for framing the curriculum for students in Bombay.

    I happened to see the Draft of the Senior Mathematics Curriculum (ACARA) on the site of the School of Mathematics and Statistics, UNSW, for the students of class 11 and 12. It was shocking to see that Geometry was totally absent from the curriculum. Also, the topics on Algebra are minimised. The Calculus also appears to be sketchy. I need not explain the shortfalls in the curriculum in detail as they are already described at length by Dr Norman Wildberger.

    In fact, I found the proposed curriculum very scary for the future of the students; rather a student will have no future with such a curriculum!

    And it is not that only a handful of students aiming at Mathematics will suffer, the entire generation who will be going through this curriculum will be at a loss, because Mathematics is very much essential for all those who would like to enter Science as well as Engineering, IT and so on.

    This proposed curriculum is not at all up to the mark, it has a lot of holes in it. Unless the curriculum is revised, and the holes are plugged, it remains improper. In effect, the foundations, the basics of all the students who will be studying this syllabus, will be very weak. And what will be the result of this weak foundation?

    Look at the picture with a global perspective: If such a curriculum is implemented, it will prove to be a major set back for the students of Australia, whereas other students, around the globe, with the appropriate curriculum and with stronger Mathematical background, will definitely be doing well in their studies. They will be at an advantage, whereas the students here will be lagging far more behind. They will be at a clear disadvantage for no fault of theirs and in such a situation, how would they compete with the others? And this is applicable to everyone, be it from the field of Science or Technology.

    I am very sure that this mess, I mean such a curriculum, is not proposed by a Mathematician. Instead of playing with the future of thousands of students, why can’t the task of preparing a curriculum be left to the experts in that subject, like University teachers, together with a group of dedicated college teachers?

    Isn’t it time to wake up and do the needful, rather than waiting for a serious disaster?

    I really appreciate Dr Norman Wildberger, who in spite of his busy schedule, is taking so much effort towards the betterment of the curriculum for the sake of students. I am sure that the parents and the teachers will join him for the good cause, which will help in arriving at a positive outcome for students.


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