Media release

Out-of-field teachers pose STEM challenge

October 2 2019

Too many teachers in science and mathematics classes are untrained in the subjects that they are required to teach.

And even those who are qualified to teach mathematics and science find it difficult to develop pedagogical content knowledge, or the teaching that leads to enhanced understanding.

These challenges are contributing to a decline in Australia’s standing in international rankings that measure progress among high school students in science and mathematics.

The issue will be discussed by an expert panel in Melbourne on Thursday 3 October.

Emeritus Professor Doreen Thomas, chair of the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering’s Education Forum, said the future of Australia’s economy and society depended on science, technology and engineering.

“Teachers are the most significant in-school factor in determining student achievement. Ensuring a high-quality teaching workforce is paramount,” she said.

“But we don’t have enough teachers trained in STEM subjects, particularly in rural and remote communities.

“The result is a large ‘teaching out-of-field’ problem, especially in the critical years of late primary and early secondary schooling.

“In secondary schools, between 21 and 38 per cent of teachers in Years 7 to 10 mathematics classes are ‘out-of-field’, depending on how that’s defined.”

Professor Thomas said: “Replacement of these teachers with fully qualified mathematics teachers will be a major task.

“It will require increasing both the numbers of students taking mathematics degrees (or majors) and the proportion of these graduates choosing to undertake teacher training.”

The Victorian Division of the Academy is holding an expert panel discussion on the issue on Thursday.

The speakers are:

  • Joanna Alexander, Principal of Blackburn High School
  • Associate Professor Linda Hobbs, Deakin University
  • Professor Jan H. van Driel, University of Melbourne

For more information or interviews, contact David Glanz, 0438 547 723 or