This is a really important topic: mathematics and science participation has been decreasing for a while, and an article in The Conversation (by Rachel Wilson) provides some data as evidence.

I have a couple of gripes however, with the data as it is presented. First, let’s look at the figure (reproduced from the author’s data) for mathematics:

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Firstly, the title of the figure in The Conversation’s piece, was Declining science and maths participation in schools. The figure was likely made by the editorial team, however the figure shows an increase in values. This is because the figure actually plots the percentage of ATAR eligible students not studying mathematics. Clearly the figure needs better a better title, or the numbers need to be reversed, e.g.:

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I think that this is a much better representation of the thrust of the argument in the article, that participation in mathematics for ATAR eligible students has declined.

However, whilst the article is very clear about the decline between the years 2001 and 2014, there is no discussion of the fact that it appears this decline arrested in around 2009. Looking at the full dataset (which the author links to in the published version, co-authored by John Mack) shows this in more detail:

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There even appears to be an increase in participation amongst males since around 2009! Given this report is an update from one that included 2001 to 2011 data, this levelling off of the decline would have been apparent in the earlier report (found here), and I think should have reported with more earnest.

So what do we get out of this? The decline in participation is serious, but the levelling off is great if it continues (or participation increases), titles of figures should match the data they present, and always present the whole data (not just a cherry-picked version of it).