It's a numbers problem without a simple answer: what should Australia do about its falling maths scores?
This week, the news that national results have slumped to the OECD average for the first time in the history of PISA's global testing regime set alarm bells ringing. Performance is also sliding across reading and science, but the fall has been unusually sharp in maths compared to most other countries and experts are calling for an urgent rethink of the system.
Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan wants the curriculum de-cluttered and education brought back to basics, with more teacher training in skills such as phonics. But some in the field have dismissed the familiar refrain about literacy and numeracy 101, noting that PISA tests 15-year-olds on their deeper problem-solving and that, while NAPLAN results have also flatlined in the past decade, they show the early years' foundations remain fairly strong.
It's the complex learning Australia seems to struggle with, says Dr Rachel Wilson at the University of Sydney.
Wilson has researched teacher quality and school funding extensively and points to a number of differences in the Australian system. Unlike most countries, she says, maths is not compulsory in the senior school years - though NSW has recently moved to bring in the rule for Year 11 and 12. There is also no policy to ensure the highest skilled teachers are placed with the schools most in need, she says, to say nothing of our low benchmarks for entry into a teaching degree or "unusual" school funding arrangements which, even after the Gonksi push to equity, still haven't bridged the class divide between the public and private sectors.
But, at the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute, school program manager Janine Sprakel admits Australia also has a problem with maths itself.
"It's more than just a phobia, it's a sense that it doesn't matter, a lack of respect for the discipline," she says. "I think it's worse here than elsewhere, this idea that you don't have a maths brain, you can't do it."
Chantal La is winding up her first year teaching mathematics to Year 11 and 12 students in the ACT, where PISA results are also falling long-term but have seen an uptick in the latest round.
La brings her own excitement for the world of numbers into the classroom each day, but admits the most challenging part has been convincing students they should be there too.
"These are really bright kids but as soon as they come to that hour of maths they have no confidence," she says.
"I'm often doing little motivational speeches along the way. I try to be honest with the kids, if I'm stuck too I say 'let's work it out together'.
For La, maths teaches more than dry theory - it's a crucial training ground for problem solving and critical thinking.
"We try to bring it into the real-world. We've looked at the stats behind weather patterns or solar radiation...You do see kids completely turn around."
But teachers like La are a dwindling resource - Dr Sue Thomson, who manages the Australian arm of PISA testing, points to a national shortage of specialised maths teachers.
AMSI estimates up to a third of secondary students are now taught maths by an out-of-field teacher.
The ACT government says it doesn't keep data on out of field teaching but it now has a "good pool" of maths educators after hiring five more last month in a targeted recruitment blitz, ahead of plans to develop a broader workforce strategy.
Sprakel and Wilson describe a vicious cycle as students disengaged with maths move into teaching degrees and graduate with lower skills in the discipline.
"And it gets worse and worse," Sprakel says.
But, a recent AMSI survey of educators reveals teachers are split on the idea of making maths compulsory all the way through school.
La echos the popular sentiment that forcing students into classrooms wouldn't necessary boost results: "I think everyone should do maths but they'll just rebel and disengage if they're made to do it."
She studied science and maths at university herself and is now mentored by a veteran maths teacher at Hawker College, under a major ramp up of teaching training in ACT public schools.
The ACT government says it's also been shifting teachers away from administration, often blamed for eating into valuable lesson planning, and focusing on more complex writing and literacy for senior students.
Now, under a unique model, 26 of its public schools are partnering with the University of Canberra to extend teacher study and professional development - and give education students more classroom learning time. Early feedback is good, the government says, as schools benefit from more teachers on hand.
On the world stage, Asian countries such as China and Singapore dominate international maths rankings in PISA, but Thomson advises caution when considering their practices.
"You often find student wellbeing scores are much lower, they might have much longer hours or use cram schools and things," she says. "But I think we should be learning from other countries. These results are a real wake-up call. It's time for a rethink of what we're doing."
And there is one thing Australia in particular could learn from many of its international counterparts.
Most experts now agree education needs an elevation in both respect and professional standards - with the teacher's union also joining calls to lift university entry requirements for teaching degrees.
"Teachers need more support but they also need more respect," Sprakel says.
"Countries like China and Japan, they really care about [school], they see it's value more than we do I think, especially in maths."
Wilson says more maths superstars like former Australian of the Year award winner Eddie Woo are now needed to shake up the disciplines's "image problem".
"We need a teacher to win that award every year," she laughs. "We need a national recruitment strategy."
But while less teachers are now trained in the discipline, Sparkel says technical and mathematical skills are more in demand than ever in the digital age.