A strategy to encourage the development of science, mathematics, engineering and technology (STEM) skills in schools has been adopted nationally.
The National STEM School Education Strategy was endorsed by the Education Council on December 11, the council said in a brief note on its website.
The council consists of education ministers for all Australian states and territories, as well as representation for the Australian and NZ Governments.
“The purpose of the strategy is to build on a range of reforms and activities already underway,” the Education Council said.
“It aims to better coordinate and target this effort and sharpen the focus on the key areas where collaborative action will deliver improvements to STEM education.”
The strategy lays out two overarching goals: to ensure students finish school with strong foundational knowledge in STEM and related skills, and to ensure students are inspired to take on challenging STEM subjects in senior secondary years.
The goals were nutted out in high level discussions at the STEM Education Summit in Sydney last month.
To achieve those goals, the strategy outlines five areas for national action, as well as “jurisdictional” actions that can be taken by the state and territory education departments to contribute to these actions.
At a national level, the strategy seeks new ways to measure numerical proficiency for school leavers and ways to reward students that take “advanced STEM subjects”; the latter could take the form of “university entrance bonus points”.
It also calls for university and industry input into the creation of STEM teaching modules, and new ways to build digital literacy skills that benchmark well against international levels.
Though there are suggested paths of action for the states and territories, the agreed strategy recognises “that jurisdictions have different starting points and that there will continue to be differences in strategic priorities across states and territories.”
Australian Industry Group CEO Innes Willox welcomed the new STEM strategy.
“This is the first time we have had a national STEM education strategy," Willox said.
"The Australian economy needs workers with the kinds of skills developed in STEM-related disciplines.
“This will not be achieved unless STEM skills are provided in the pipeline to the workforce.
“The establishment of a National School STEM Education Strategy is an important milestone on the road to establishing an overall national STEM skills strategy to meet the increasing demands of the knowledge based economy”.
Australia’s Chief Scientist Professor Ian Chubb AC called the strategy a “pathway to a future where every Australian student will have improved STEM skills and the opportunity to pursue them at a challenging level.”
“This strategy will prepare school students in the best way possible for a world of rapid-technological change where innovation and creativity will be the keys to the future,” he said.
Though Chubb supported the entire strategy, he placed particular emphasis on actions designed to “increase STEM teaching quality by lifting the standard of STEM content in initial teacher education as well as improving pathways and in-service support for teachers.”
“Confident, well-prepared STEM teachers are the ones who can inspire students and sustain their natural curiosity in the world around them,” he said.
“Principals must lead by example in making STEM teaching a priority in schools and ensuring there is first-class professional development available.
“This is a great start and I congratulate all involved in this far-reaching strategy.”
While not downplaying its importance, the Education Council noted that other initiatives outside the education sector would also be needed to solve the STEM skills shortage.
“Reversing the trends in STEM performance will take time and effort across the community,” the strategy said.
“Building young people’s engagement in STEM is bigger than schools and what happens in the classroom.
“Education systems alone cannot overcome the pervading cultural norm that it is acceptable to be ‘bad at maths’ or ‘not a numbers person’.”