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The Status of STEM in Schools

Wednesday, September 27th, 2017

The relevance of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) qualifications and expertise is increasingly on the public radar – and with good reason. Proficiency in STEM skills might include individual subject matter expertise, but more crucially, STEM teaches a mode of thought.

Yet, in Australia, there is currently a shortage of trained maths and science teachers.

26% of Years 7 to 10 and 14% percent of Years 11 and 12 maths classes are taught by non-maths teachers according to the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute (AMSI). [Tweet this.]

In their report, AMSI also notes that this is particularly pronounced in remote and regional areas – and “inequality in the maths performance of school students is worsening”.

Furthermore, student participation in STEM is also dropping:

Only half of Year 12 students now study science – compared to nine out of 10 in the early 1990s (Australian Academy of Science). [Tweet this.]

Learning in the domains of science, technology, engineering and mathematics involves an inquiry-based approach, where a student asks a question, comes up with several solutions, and then tests for the answer. This skill is becoming increasingly important as most of the fastest-growing industries and jobs require this kind of problem-solving mindset.

In Australia, 75 per cent of the fast-growing occupations require STEM skills and knowledge. [Tweet this.]

recent report on the “New Work Order” from the Foundation of Young Australians looked at how disruptions to the world of work are affecting young people. The report showed that three global forces are rapidly changing the way we work: automation, globalisation and flexibility. This has major implications for how teachers and parents help students prepare for their futures:

As technology reduces the need for workers to complete routine manual tasks, workers will spend more time focusing on people solving more strategic problems and thinking creatively. [Tweet this.]

Individuals with STEM experience can bring their passion and qualifications to the classroom. David Hosken is an Alumnus of the Leadership Development Program (Cohort 2015), and is currently acting Head of Science at Southern River College in WA. Before entering the classroom, he worked for 18 months in Antarctica as a research scientist. At a recent panel on the future of STEM education, he said “Once students found out that I previously was a ‘real’ scientist, kids started saying ‘what are you doing? You shouldn’t be here?’ It was like they didn’t deserve me. These kids are already thinking that they can’t achieve.”

Schools play a crucial role in igniting and fostering a passion for skills in science and mathematics as they prepare students for the jobs of the future. [Tweet this.]

Adam Inder, also an Alumnus (Cohort 2015) and now Head of Science at Clarkson Community High School in WA, believes in the importance of exciting and engaging young people in STEM. He has started an initiative to invite students in their final years of prmary schools to engage in lab work and expose them to experiments. Getting students into labs early is important so that the “scientific rigour developed there can carry through to Years 10, 11, 12”.

All teachers can inspire their students, and as the need for problem-solving in the workforce grows, this inspiration in STEM areas is particularly critical.

42% of all Teach For Australia Associates have been placed to teach STEM, and 23% were placed to teach maths and physics. Teach For Australia is only a small part of the solution to bringing more STEM-qualified teachers into classrooms, and we are always looking for graduates with STEM degrees to apply to our Leadership Development Program.

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