One of the most renowned mathematicians in the world was in Norway this week and some budding young math experts got a chance to meet him. They need all the inspiration they can get: Some 36 per cent of Norwegian math teachers are over 60 years old and neither the state nor counties have made plans to find replacements when they retire.
“The situation for pupils from 16 to 18 is extremely difficult,” Elisabeth Aspaker, a member of the Norwegian Parliament’s education committee, told newspaper Aftenposten. “In a matter of a few years this age group will lose its best-qualified teachers in math and science.”
Pupils from Sommerlyst School in her county in Northern Norway have just won a national math competition dubbed KappAbel, named after the Norwegian 19th-century math prodigy Niels Henrik Abel. That also won them the chance to meet John Torrence Tate, the winner of this year’s Abel Prize, often called the “Nobel in mathematics.”
Aspaker was happy on their behalf, but worried about how the northernmost counties are going be able to hold on to their aging math and science teachers and at the same time recruit new staff with mathematical training.
An international study called TIMSS Advanced, gives further reason for worry. It shows that more than 73 per cent of Norwegian math teachers are over 50.
“We’re already into overtime in ensuring good senior employee relations in order that we can retain these teachers for as long as possible,” says Aspaker, adding that more training is needed for new teachers.
Education minister Kristin Halvorsen, thinks that math competitions increase interest in the subject. The KappAbel is a good example, and large Norwegian firm Det Norske Veritas also recently helped back the “Albert” math competition, precisely to stimulate interest in science and math at the high school level.
Other awards in Norway include The Holmboe Prize to the country’s best math teacher. It was won this year by Therese Hagfors from Bjørnevatn in Finnmark county in Northern Norway.
Another Abel prize for 16-19 year-olds also went to one of Norway’s northern counties. Tony Valle from Hammerfest in Finnmark won this year’s prize.