What is the best country for maths?
A study by University of Adelaide mathematician and economist Paul Lai suggests the answer may not be Australia or the UK, but rather the US.
Lai’s research has shown that a lack of good maths education in the US has led to a lacklustre performance in the field.
“Australia has some very good universities that are very good at maths,” he said.
“But they haven’t done very well in the last 30 years.”
The US has had its share of good mathematicians but not many great ones, said Lai, who conducted his own study on US maths education.
“I think the US is a bit of a failure in maths education, I think there is a lack there,” he told the ABC.
“The US has a very high proportion of maths PhDs and very few of them are very successful.”
He added that while the US had the largest number of mathematicians per capita in the world, its students were less likely to get maths degrees than in other countries.
“In Australia, the ratio is 1:100,000, and I think in other parts of the world that ratio is probably higher, and they’re not as well educated,” he added.
“It may be that the US isn’t as well-trained as other countries.”
A key factor in the UK’s maths performance was that it had a strong maths education system, according to the University of Oxford’s Professor Michael Eavis.
“When the UK has good maths schools, then students who are going to be doing maths are not going to get much help from teachers, and so it’s a bit like the UK is a very good place for people to be learning maths, but it’s not as good as the UK would like,” he explained.
“You have to be pretty lucky to get a good maths school.
If you’re going to do maths at a university in the west, it’s almost guaranteed that you’re getting a good teacher.”
He said the UK also had a much higher proportion of young people studying maths, than Australia or most other countries, so the UK was the most favoured destination for mathematicians.
“So the British government has invested in maths schools and that has made a big difference in the way the maths education systems are run in the country,” he continued.
“There are still a lot of problems with the UK having the best maths education of any country, but they are very, very close to the US.”
The OECD’s statistics on maths and science show that the UK had the highest proportion of mathematic-trained workers of any OECD country.
The UK has an average of 4,000 mathematicians, compared with 4,300 in the USA and 3,800 in Japan.
In Australia, there are about 7,500 mathematicians in the workforce, compared to 9,400 in the United States.
The OECD also has a ranking of the top 10 countries for maths in 2020.
The United States is ranked number two in the OECD’s rankings, behind Australia.
“One of the things that makes the UK really, really great is that we have a very strong maths and scientific education system,” said Professor Eavis, adding that it was the US’ “biggest strength”.
“Australia also has good science schools and has some great universities in the maths and sciences sector,” he concluded.
“What Australia doesn’t have is good maths universities.
That’s a major problem in the U.S.”
Topics: maths-and-science, science-and, united-states