STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, and covers a wide array of subjects within those fields. The acronym was coined in 2001 by the US National Science Foundation. It would go on to be used around the world when addressing education policy and curriculum choices.
In traditional curricula, science, technology, engineering, and maths subjects are all taught separately. STEM, on the other hand, combines related subjects in real-world use cases. This is so that abstract concepts are more easily understood and more immediately applied. Classes are often project-based, where students have to find solutions to specific problems by putting theory into practice.
History of STEM in Australia
Australia invests heavily in its education system compared to other OECD countries. Until recently however, student performance in STEM-related subjects has lagged behind. According to a 2012 Program for International Student Assessment report, Australia ranked 16th of all OECD nations in science and 19th in mathematics.
Besides performance, a study by the Australian Council of Learned Academies found that Year 12 participation in STEM subjects has been declining for years. Between 1992 and 2010, the percentage of Year 12 students enrolling for biology fell from 35% to 24%, physics from 21% to 14%, and mathematics from 77% to 72%. Australia also experienced sporadic IT skill shortages due to a lack of interest in computing.
In response to these issues, the Australian government took big steps in 2015 to improve student participation and learning outcomes. They established projects such as:
- Science by Doing – provides practical online science resources to students in Years 7 to 10.
- reSolve: Maths by Inquiry – provides engaging, inquiry-based activities so students can have fun learning maths.
- Digital Technologies Hub – provides tutorials and lesson ideas to help students learn digital technologies.
Why STEM learning is important
There are many compelling arguments why STEM education is vital. One argument is that STEM skills are in high demand in Australia. However, fewer students are interested in a career in technology and the sciences. By exposing students to STEM subjects at an early age, they’re more likely to:
- develop an interest in them,
- pursue high-paying jobs in the field, and
- meet Australia’s talent shortage.
Making STEM curricula available across Australian schools also supports Indigenous Australians and those from low-socioeconomic backgrounds who may not have had the teachers or resources to excel in STEM subjects.
Finally, STEM is not just about creating a future generation of programmers, doctors, and engineers. It’s about giving young Australians problem solving, creative thinking, and digital literacy skills to adapt to the modern world.
Despite the importance of STEM education, there are hosts of challenges for K-12 schools. For starters, teachers must be given proper support and training to be able to teach STEM skills in the classroom. Lessons also have to be improved to promote depth of understanding and continued interest in these subjects.
Another issue is that schools that were initially not designed for STEM education. This means that they have limited space to install specialised learning materials and equipment. What’s more, certain institutions have:
- old computer equipment,
- poorly configured networks, and
- outdated software
This not only affect the quality of lessons, but also jeopardise the students’ cybersafety.
Most STEM-related jobs require high levels of digital literacy. Therefore, many schools in Australia now make it a priority for students to learn the fundamentals of IT and computing. In fact, the federal government is already helping schools improve digital learning outcomes with initiatives like:
- Coding competitions from Years 4 to 12.
- Online computing challenges for Year 5 and 7 students.
- IT summer schools for students in Years 9 and 10.
- STEM-specific training and support for teachers.
- The Maker Project which offers primary and secondary schools a $2,000-$5,000 grant to purchase ITC and other equipment. Eligible schools can apply on November 8 2018.
Additionally, more schools will rely on bring your own device (BYOD) policies to make STEM subjects more engaging and tech-oriented while reducing IT expenses. However, it’s important that schools have the tools and frameworks to implement this policy.
Empower IT Solutions provides top-class managed BYOD solutions that help you incorporate STEM subjects and improve digital literacy in your school. Signing up for this service gives you mobile device management tools, Office 365 subscriptions, and classroom management tools.
We even offer a technology fund of up to $25,000 that you can put towards upgrading your network, investing in digital resources, and enhancing your cybersecurity so you can address the challenges of STEM education. Just fill out our quick tech fund survey or contact us today to learn more.