Maths is getting harder, and families are struggling.

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Secondary school students are suffering from math homework and family time, and their mental health is paying the price. “Mathematics homework and the potential compounding of educational disadvantage,” a study from the University of South Australia, shows how students struggle with complex concepts at home. These struggles also create friction in the family dynamic as parents struggle to act as teachers, teaching content they are unfamiliar with and may not have engaged with since their own schooling.

This has led to socioeconomic status and family structure being a key factor in a child’s success with mathematics at school. An Australian study from 2013 was referenced, where it was found that socioeconomic status had an impact on 70% of students’ mathematics success. With the cost of living rising, things such as tutors or external school support and resources may become a luxury. 

Tutoring remains a billion-dollar industry worldwide as parents seek to provide the best education for their children, especially with the fear of losing quality of learning over the pandemic. In 2021, the NSW Government created an intensive learning support program to help students recover from these learning difficulties but found no difference between students who had taken the program and those who had not. Without tutoring, parents are expected to help children practice these mathematic concepts, even if it is an expectation the parents have put upon themselves.

The data from the 2021 Census show that in New South Wales, 44.6% of two-parent families have two employed parents, and approximately half of those families have two parents employed full-time, making child care and school support a struggle. 15.8% of families have only one parent supporting the family financially and at home. 81% of these single-parent families are women supporting their children, and even in two-parent homes, mothers often take on the role of an at-home teacher. These family structures are no longer outliers. With or without parental help, children are frequently left alone to understand classwork that may be lost on them. Children and families struggle particularly with mathematics in this situation, as secondary school math homework is not often assigned to be done at home, but it is schoolwork that cannot be completed in the lesson. 

These time constraints put pressure on students to teach themselves concepts from the resources they have on hand, primarily textbooks and the Internet. This can lead to misunderstanding the material or frustration as students struggle. This frustration often leads to children disengaging from classwork or school and having a negative impression of learning. Mathematics is particularly easy for students to disengage from due to the myths of simply not being a maths person or not having a maths brain. This simply isn’t true. The enjoyment and satisfaction have a far more significant impact on understanding the subject. 

The struggles with maths homework lead to poorer mental health for the student and disruption within the home. Whether this is because of the teachers’ workload, a curriculum too densely packed, or a lack of support in a traditional classroom remains to be seen. It will likely vary from family to family and school to school. 

Julia Bell

I have been an editor at WSUP since 2022, and studying at WSU since 2019.…

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