Federal govt calls for joint effort to back STEM education in Australia

Students, parents, teachers, schools, and the government are all responsible for driving the uptake of STEM skills in Australia, according to ​Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Industry and Science Karen Andrews.
Written by Aimee Chanthadavong, Contributor

Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Industry and Science Karen Andrews has underscored the importance for students, parents, and teachers to understand the future job prospects of STEM education in Australia

Speaking at the STEM Education Conference in Sydney on Monday, she highlighted that most of the fastest growing occupations in Australia -- some 75 percent -- require STEM skills; however in comparison to other countries, Australia has a lot of work to do.

She noted in comparison to professions in legal field where there is a "chronic over-supply of graduates" that Australia has about 35 law schools whereas Canada that has nearly one and a half times as many people only has 16 schools. In turn, Andrews said employers are admitting they find it hard to recruit people with skills needed for STEM-based occupations.

"Despite our rich history of inventions and technological innovation, Australia lags behind other OECD countries in terms of the number of students studying STEM subjects and how STEM interacts with industry to turn ideas into innovation," she said.

Andrews highlighted the federal government has committed several initiatives to drive further uptake of STEM-based education, such as committing more than AU$9 billion in science, research, and innovation in this year's budget, but noted that "simply putting money into science isn't enough".

To generate a critical mass of people with STEM skills, Andrews said the government has established the Commonwealth Science Council, chaired by the Prime Minister, to bring Australian scientists and business people to help ensure Australia's science and research efforts are targeted to deliver the best results for the nation.

At the same time, Andrews said the government is investing AU$12 million over the next four years to improve the focus on STEM subjects in primary and secondary schools. This will see computer coding taught across different year levels; a pilot of Pathways in Technology Early College High School program in Geelong, Victoria; and providing travel and accommodation for the students who participate in STEM summer schools, which are due to start next January.

For teachers, Andrews said the government has tasked the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership to strengthen course accreditation for teaching, which was a recommendation made as part of the Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory group report as a way to improve the content and delivery of teacher education in Australia. This will require universities to make sure primary school teachers graduate with a subject specialisation in science, maths, or a language.

"The aim is to make it very clear to universities as to what they need to include in each course to ensure new teachers have the knowledge and skills to succeed in the classroom," she said.

Andrews also boasted that the government's industry and science portfolio has committed AU$5.8 billion, including more than AU$3 billion for CSIRO, to scientific research over the next four years.

Earlier this year, Communications Minister Malcolm Turbull expressed he was disappointed with the amount of students taking up STEM education.

"Of our 600,000 workers in ICT, more than half work outside the traditional ICT sector. 75 percent of the fastest-growing occupations require STEM skills, but only half of year 12 students are studying science; that's down from 94 percent 20 years ago. That is really a retrograde development, and we have to turn that around," he said at the time.

Similar remarks were made by Westpac CIO Dave Curran last week who called for urgent changes to be made to the country's current IT education system, suggesting more needs to be done to increase the talent drought in the industry.

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