Eminent maths, science and education professors are concerned that under-qualified teachers, "student led" pedagogy and assignment-based assessment methods are rendering a generation of Australian children innumerate.
Scientist Jennifer Stow is a former Harvard University researcher with a PhD from Monash University and a post-doctoral degree from Yale.
Stow teaches science to undergraduates and trains PhD students at the University of Queensland Institute for Molecular Bio-science.
Stow is "flabbergasted" by what she views as substandard skills in maths and English among many Australian undergraduates.
Foreign PhD science students outnumber the locals in her field, she says, because Australian students are so far behind in maths.
"A lot of them haven't learned the times tables at school, they haven't been drilled in spelling and they come to university not being able to do division."
"There are lots of international students at university now, and kids from places like Singapore have got much better reading, writing and maths skills than the Australian kids."
Stow believes that Australian high school students are getting "dumber by the minute".
The latest results from the OECD's Program for International Student Assessment reveal that Australia's maths performance in Year 10 fell by the equivalent of six months of schooling between 2003 and 2012.
One-fifth of Australian students were ranked among the poorest performers in maths, in contrast to 3.8 per cent of Chinese students.
"There needs to be rote learning, memorisation and mental arithmetic so it becomes automatic. The fashion for the past 20 years has been very much against memorisation and we need to bring that back," says education expert Kevin Donnelly.
But thousands of Australian students are being taught maths by teachers who specialised in humanities subjects at university.
"At high school the person teaching physics is more likely to be a physical education teacher than someone qualified to teach science", notes James Cook University professor Peter Ridd.
Four times more phys-ed teachers graduated from Queensland universities than maths teachers in 2012 - and Queensland already has an oversupply of phys-ed teachers.
Ridd is highly critical of Queensland's controversial assessment methods for high school maths.
While other states and territories rely on regular external testing of kids' maths ability, Queensland high schools set a series of written assignments that can be 10,000 words long.
"We (scientists) want someone who can solve an equation and add fractions," Ridd says.
"The Queensland curriculum and Assessment Authority wants someone who can write an essay. ... The subject has been hijacked by education theorists who have no idea what's going on."
"It's as if they've done a mathematical appreciation course," says Matthew Dean, a researcher and former first-year lecturer at the University of Queensland school of mathematics and physics.
"They know of things but don't have the skill to do it themselves."
Counting the cost of national maths failure, Natasha Bita, P. 17, The Weekend Australian, 6-7 December 2014.