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Australia, we need to stem the decline in STEM subjects

Oct 19, 2018 by

By Greg Callaghan –

Here’s an irony to ponder. Why is it that we have world-renowned physicists such as Michio Kaku and Brian Cox on popular speaking tours of Australia (they’re touring in November and June respectively); science adventure documentaries like Todd Sampson’s Redesign My Brain and Body Hack rating well on TV; and Hollywood films such as First Man doing good box office, yet the group of school subjects collectively known as STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) continue to languish?

Despite the National STEM School Education Strategy being approved in 2015, there seems no end to the bad news on these subjects, which are critical to our future economic competitiveness. Enrolments in STEM subjects are at their lowest level in two decades, according to a federal government report released last year. Perhaps even more desperately, scores in science and maths continue to slide. And research released earlier this year by the Public Education Foundation suggests that declining performance in maths, reading and science will cost the nation $120 billion over the next 45 years.

If Australia ever hopes to turn out the scientists, engineers and IT specialists it will need in the coming decades, the experts agree we need to stem the decline in STEM subjects. But it’s not just a matter of making science and maths more engaging.

“We need higher entry requirements for those entering teaching courses, better salary conditions and a higher community respect for teachers, improved resources in schools such as science labs and maths resource centres, and a halt to government cuts to public education and TAFE,” says Correna Haythorpe, federal president of the Australian Education Union. “Look at the success of countries like Finland and Singapore: universities recruit teachers from the top 30 per cent of high school graduates, politicians talk up the importance of education and continually award it the financial priority it needs.”

We also need to bust some myths about STEM, such as that a “science brain” or a “maths brain” is something you’re born with. The late Frenchman Laurent Schwartz, winner of the world’s highest mathematics award, the Fields medal, struggled with maths at school. He declared that the greatest mathematicians are in fact “slow thinkers”.

Source: Australia, we need to stem the decline in STEM subjects

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