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Have to Learn it First

Despite their outsized importance in science, quantitative skills seem to be lacking in some science graduates, writes Kelly Matthews, a lecturer in curriculum development at the University of Queensland, at the Conversation.

She asked some 210 about-to-graduate students to take a 35-question assessment of their math and quantitative skills. The students were asked a combination of mathematical and statistical reasoning questions. For instance, one question described a scenario in which a survey of a thousand US adults found a correlation between income and recycling habits, and the respondents were then asked to interpret this finding and whether causation could be determined. About a third of the students answered incorrectly.

The students themselves told Matthews that they had not encountered questions like these in their studies, which, she notes, is in line with other researchers have found. One study she references asked academics at three universities to identify where students learn quantitative skills and found that such skills aren't really taught.

"The real problems to address in science higher education, if we expect students to graduate with quantitative skills or any complex learning outcome for that matter, are whole of degree program curriculum leadership and teaching development," she says.