‘No room for politics in STEM education’ – expert

‘No room for politics in STEM education’ – expert

Last week, a conference brought together 900 primary, secondary, tertiary, industry and agency representatives to share the expertise and skills needed to create and deliver world-class STEM education programs.

The 2019 Regional NSW Future Focused (STEM) Conference was organised by the state’s education department and the 15 public schools that make up the Cessnock Community of Great Public Schools.

Dr Scott Sleap, the conference convenor and STEM Industry School Partnership program leader, said the conference was a unique opportunity for educators to learn about the latest trends in STEM and how they can be applied and taught in an age-appropriate way from primary to tertiary level.

The importance of STEM education has been pushed by state and federal governments who are eager to ensure that by the time today’s school children graduate, they are prepared for the fast-paced world of work, and the technology driving it.

However, the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute (AMSI) is warning that a commitment to increased investment in STEM education and research on all sides of politics is essential to secure the nation’s future prosperity.

AMSI Director, Professor Tim Brown is calling for “bi-partisan recognition of the economic importance and value of STEM education backed by long-term funding and initiatives attached to targets not aspirations”.

“STEM capability, particularly mathematics, is essential to our future security and capacity to compete as a global innovator,” AMSI director, Professor Tim Brown, said.

Professor Brown said national leadership was needed on STEM education, research training and research-industry engagement, as well as gender equity and diversity.

“There is no room for politics when it comes to our nation’s future prosperity and tackling issues such teacher supply and quality, university mathematics prerequisites, STEM gender equity and industry-university research collaboration,” he said.

Despite growing demand for advanced quantitative and analytical skills, a recent AMSI report showed only 9.4% of Year 12 students took higher level mathematics in 2017, the lowest level recorded in more than two decades.

Year 12 girls continue to trail boys at only 6.9% compared to 12.2% of boys.

Out-of-field teaching is one of a mix of factors impacting STEM engagement. AMSI revealed that three quarters of Australian students are taught by an out-of-field maths teacher at least once during Years 7 to 10.

Worryingly, 35% will have an out-of-field teacher for at least two of these years and 8% for three years.

Professor Brown said that while funding has been allocated to tackle gender equity, careers awareness and deliver training and resources to boost teacher quality, the current measures were “nowhere near enough”.

“We need a long-term vision supported by strong funding, including incentives to accelerate adequate mathematical preparation of students for university courses as diverse as commerce, health and engineering,” he said.

“As well as increasing supply of mathematics specialists into teaching, long-term investment is needed to support Australia’s PhD workforce to apply their specialist skills to industry innovation challenges.”

Professor Brown said sustained funding to programs such as APR.Intern is critical to create pathways between Australia’s top universities and innovation industry.

“Powerful linkages that accelerate STEM capability where it is needed the most,” he said.