Figures have shown that Australia continues to lag behind on a number of indicators. Enrolments in science and maths continue to decline in Australian High Schools and the number of year 12 students studying STEM subjects is also declining.
To address this, the Office of the Chief Scientist recently published a report, titled ‘Australia’s STEM workforce report’, outlining the importance of students’ STEM skills.
Such skills, it said, are strongly associated with innovation, fostering creativity and critical thinking. The report also suggested that businesses making use of STEM skills are almost 60% more likely to be innovative.
One initiative that has been making significant progress in terms of improving students’ STEM skills is the Scientists and Mathematicians in Schools (SMiS) Program.
Since its inception in 2007, SMiS has bought to life contemporary science and maths practices into classrooms, fostering almost 5,000 partnerships and touching 23% of schools across Australia.
The program’s director, Claudette Bateup, told The Educator that today there are nearly 1,900 partnerships in place, involving teachers at 1,297 schools.
“We’ve seen that involving real-life STEM professionals in classrooms gives students and teachers access to experiences, resources and skills they wouldn’t otherwise have been exposed to, enhancing engagement and interest in STEM subjects,” she said.
“As educators and as citizens, we need to find ways to tap into our students’ curiosity and wonder about the world; central attributes for the successful practice of STEM and embodied in the words of Albert Einstein ‘I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious’.”
Damien Belobrajdic, a senior research scientist at the CSIRO, was a part of the centre’s partnership with Edwardstown Primary School, located in South Australia.
“This event was a great way for me to meet and network with teachers in my local area. At that particular event, I was introduced to Edwardstown Primary’s Australian Curriculum Coordinator,” he told The Educator.
“We then had an exciting brainstorming session where we identified a range of “hands-on” activities that would complement the Australian Curriculum and provide the students with an opportunity to engage with a real scientist to better understand who I am and what I do.”
Belobrajdic added that seeing students and teachers get a better appreciation and understanding of science and its importance to their lives was encouraging.
“As a research scientist, I had always been interested in ways of showing the benefits of science and my research to teachers and students across all year levels,” he said.
“I’ve been able to see first-hand how the students positively respond to spending quality time with a real scientist.”
Sue Gaardboe, coordinator of the Australian Curriculum at the school, said the experience had been of great value to her as well as her students.
“The partnership between Damien and I created a connection between the school and 'real world' science,” she said.
“It brings the learning the students do into focus, as they can see the connection between the skills we teach them and the work that Damien does.”
Bateup said principals play a central role in the learning environment of school communities through “fostering an environment that encourages and supports innovative teaching and relevant community collaborations to enhance learning”.
“One of the unique features of our program is that we work with individual teacher volunteers to match them with a STEM professional that suits their needs and develop a partnership from there,” she said.
“Encouraging teachers to volunteer to get involved and welcoming volunteer STEM professional partners when they visit their teacher partner are ways principals can facilitate and support their teachers and students in building a STEM professional partnership.”