Australia's Chief Scientist

Do the sums: Be a champion

At the annual  APSM Olympiads, students use maths to battle it out for the chance to help their school take the title of ‘Team of the Year,’ as well as working to gain a perfect individual score for themselves.

Students from any Australian or New Zealand school can compete in one of two divisions – Division J for children under 12 years of age, and Division S for children under 14 years of age. Last year, more than 32 000 students competed in the challenge and organisers are expecting even more for the 2010 event,  with registration due to close on April 30.

Schools can enter teams of up to 30 students and both individual and team prizes are up for grabs.

Former Chief Scientist for Australia, Professor Penny D Sackett, said events such as the Olympiads encourage children to engage with maths in a positive way outside the classroom.

“Maths can be fun, exciting and interesting, and the Olympiad is just one example of all three.

“Australia is facing a skills shortage in many areas that are dependent on knowledge of mathematics – everything from engineering to economics – so it’s important that we encourage students to improve their maths skills,” Professor Sackett said.

Enrolments in secondary school and university maths programs are slipping every year, with the starkest drop recorded between 2005 and 2007 when the number of year 12 students enrolled in advanced mathematics courses declined by 20 per cent.

A recent paper released by the Group of Eight universities which discussed the state of mathematics in Australia, indicated that per capita, Australia trains two and one-half times fewer mathematics graduates than is the standard in developed (OECD) countries.

One of the recommendations of the report is a push to make maths fun and exciting for students.

As well as activities such as the Olympiads, students can become involved in numerous other initiatives and competitions, including science poetry competitions, wildlife photography contests, drawing and video contests and even robot creations.

 To find out more about these competitions, please visit the websites listed below: