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Invest in qualified teachers for STEM education

CEO of Science & Technology Australia (STA), Ms Kylie Walker, said two decades of declines in high school maths and science results and enrolments were a significant risk to Australia’s future capability and prosperity.

“Intermediate and advanced maths enrolments are most worrying, with declines from 54 per cent in 1992, to 36 per cent in 2012,” Ms Walker said.

“We already have skilled workforce deficits in some areas of technology, and we know the major growth in future jobs will be in science, technology, engineering and maths: we need to support teachers with the right skills to prepare our students for the jobs of tomorrow.

“We hope Minister Birmingham’s commitment to developing teacher skills extends to encouraging and incentivising universities to attract more students to undergraduate science and maths degrees.”

Minister for Education and Training, Senator Simon Birmingham, this morning said around 20% of STEM teachers are teaching outside of their area expertise, noting that the Government wanted to ensure that universities are training future secondary teachers in science and mathematics.

“Many of our member organisations have been calling for urgent action to address the decline for some time,” Ms Walker said.

“Unfortunately, though, current caps on funding for undergraduate degrees pose significant challenges to building a STEM-qualified education workforce.

“STEM degrees are important to securing Australia’s prosperity, and though they are costly to deliver, they will pay dividends,” she said.

“The solution is twofold: have skilled teachers inspire students to develop a passion for STEM from an early age, and invest in universities to attract these students to pursue a degree in STEM.”

First published by Science & Technology Australia
Science Meets Business summit

Teachers and postdocs key to innovation

Featured image above: a series of four panels discussed STEM and innovation at the Science Meets Business summit

Australia should ‘hang its head in shame’ over our lack of support for teachers, says Ian Chubb AC, the ex-Chief Scientist of Australia, at the second national Science Meets Business event in Melbourne.

The gathering of CEO’s, board members, government, research leaders and start-ups focussed on improving collaboration and innovation in Australia’s STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) and startup sectors.

As well as ensuring a strong STEM talent pipeline by improving support for teachers, a ‘simple but elegant’ national, industry-led PhD program is key to an innovative future, ANSTO CEO Adi Paterson said at the summit.

The summit heard how developing visible pathways to careers and skilling up students across humanities and STEM was important both to creating startups and improving existing business.

Labour’s Senator Kim Carr and Liberal Assistant Minister Craig Laundy brought the political grunt to a richly experienced series of four panels that covered taking startups to small to medium enterprises; Australia’s tech expertise; improving collaboration between research, government and industry; and looking for Australia’s ‘next big thing’.

The Science Meets Business summit is run annually by Science and Technology Australia. Science Meets Business publishers Refraction Media support the summit as media partner.

There is a need to refocus what we mean by innovation away from “hipster app developers” Senator Carr said, and towards innovation in existing business.

“It’s not possible to foster innovation without substantial investment in science and research,” said Senator Carr.

In a rare bipartisan agreement between the Liberal and Labour factions, The Honorable Craig Laundy MP also called out the need to solve problems in current business in a largely off-the-cuff speech that emphasised his own background as a publican, where innovation could be a new way to clean the taps – which could have involved three staff previously.

Laundy pointed out that there was a need for business to meet science as well as ‘science meets business’.

Developing language to bring together business, investment, researchers and students was one of the areas where Australia could be doing better, the summit heard.

“Innovation is not startups. We’re talking about the transformation of a whole economy,” said Adrian Turner, CEO of Data 61 and chair of the Cyber Security Growth Centre.

Turner went on to say that Australia must look away from Silicon Valley and towards its own opportunities where deep science meets fast-paced entrepreneurship.

Tech capability, biotech, agricultural innovation and defence were some of the strengths which set Australia apart from the rest of the world, the Science Meets Business summit heard.

“We need to lift the scale of our business-science ambition,” Turner said.

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– Heather Catchpole

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Innovation breathes new life into old business

industry-school partnerships

Industry engagement must start at school

Robotics, artificial intelligence, advanced materials and biotechnology will impact business models from 2018 and employment in engineering, architecture, IT and maths is on the rise. Currently women are significantly underrepresented in these jobs. 

Schools have a major role in promoting female participation in the STEM workforce. The challenge for schools and educators is to help female students understand this new environment and evolve the skills and resilience to operate in the future STEM landscape.

So how can we support female students to pursue STEM careers?

Provide opportunities

A major challenge for schools exists around resourcing and updating teacher knowledge. The Victorian Department of Education established six specialist science and mathematics centres to help schools inspire students in STEM through student programs and teacher professional learning.

These specialist centres collaborate with research institutes and industry to showcase Victorian innovation and entrepreneurial pursuits in STEM. Providing access to research-grade technologies and expertise immerses teachers and students in contemporary science investigations.  It helps girls visualise new STEM pathways and ignites their interest in pursuing studies in science.


“Industry and research institutions can play a pivotal role in supporting schools to bridge the divide between STEM in practice, and STEM in the classroom.”


Enhance motivation

What motivates a female student to engage with STEM? At the very core our answer should include interest and relevance. Relevance showcases how skills and knowledge apply to the world around us. Interest is maintained when students understand and can actively use new skills and knowledge to analyse results, solve problems and discuss issues.

A student will quickly disengage if they do not experience success. A series of sequenced challenges designed to activate thinking and the linking of ideas to create new knowledge supports students to take risks and develop and test theories.

Promote dialogue and skills of negotiation

Girls enjoy learning as a social and collaborative exercise. In this way they can hold meaningful discourse as they interrogate ideas. Providing learning spaces that promote social interaction around artefacts provides a non-threatening method of testing ideas and refining knowledge.

Raise aspirations

Industries want to increase female participation in the workforce as this promotes diversity and has been shown to improve outcomes. Cited barriers to hiring and promoting women include unconscious bias in managers and women’s low confidence and aspirations.

industry-school partnerships
Credit: Future of Jobs Report, World Economic Forum

We all harbour learned stereotypes that are encultured in us and affect decisions. Meeting and collaborating with early and established female career scientists has a positive impact on women’s aspirations. It helps to break down misconceptions surrounding the role of scientists by highlighting the convergence of STEM where collaboration – rather than competition – is key.

Industry and research institutions can play a pivotal role in supporting schools to bridge the divide between STEM in practice, and STEM in the classroom. By partnering with schools to develop meaningful and relevant learning experiences for students, enriched by access to facilities, resources, technologies and expertise, students realise how exciting and diverse a career in STEM can be.

By communicating the need for gender diversity and nurturing STEM skills that will be most valued in the workforce, we can help raise female aspirations as they reflect on subject choice in their senior years.

Jacinta Duncan

Director, Gene Technology Access Centre

Read next: Captain Mona Shindy describes her journey as a pioneer in the Royal Australian Navy.

People and careers: Meet women who’ve paved brilliant careers in STEM here, find further success stories here and explore your own career options at postgradfutures.com.

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Australia: nation of inventors or innovators?

If Australia wants to become more than just a land made up of quarries, farms and tourist beaches, it has to ensure more scientists and engineers are trained to drive innovation, warns Dr Katherine Woodthorpe, Chair of the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre, and panellist at last week’s inaugural Science Meets Business event.

The event, hosted by Science and Technology Australia, aimed to “kickstart a reshaped and refreshed conversation on ways to boost collaboration between Australia’s great businesses and scientists”.

Speakers at the event came from a wide range of industry, government and research, each presenting their ideas for an innovative future.

Keynote speaker Dr Larry Marshall, CEO of CSIRO, celebrated ‘deep tech’ as an ecosystem of plenty, responsible for 100% of US jobs last year. In his experience, deep tech entrepreneurship creates a virtuous cycle of innovation.

Marshall wants to meet industry halfway, working together to understand what customers want. This is not an overnight solution, he warned. “Both CSIRO and Australia will be in beta for the next five years.”

In exploring problems of “diagnosis and lifting the game”, Ken Boal, Vice President at CISCO Australia and New Zealand, said businesses should lean in more, connect with universities and help in the translation of research to the wider community.

Australia: nation of inventors or innovators?

Intrinsic to this translation of research outcomes is a STEM outreach program to schools. Professor Ian Frazer AC, Head of the Diamantina Institute at the University of Queensland, identified the roots of the problem beginning where schools focus on students achieving high-performance marks. Science is tough, and often students are advised to choose an easier subject to maximise their score. He also emphasised the need to place greater value on science and teachers.

Hugh Bradlow, Telstra’s Chief Scientist, suggested that technology could be part of the education solution. If technology is able to reduce costs of education, then perhaps we can pay our teachers more and attract a higher calibre of staff, he proposed.

The Hon Karen Andrews MP, representing Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, believes business and science need each other, and Australia needs both. Even though we don’t know what the jobs of the future are going to be, we know there will be core skills required, like coding and data science, she explained. Maths and statistics will be in high demand, alongside creative thinking and entrepreneurship. Andrews is putting together an action plan to connect industry and research.

While the official announcement was still under wraps, Australia’s next Chief Scientist Alan Finkel encouraged a celebration of Australia’s achievements and an effort to build upon the engagement that already exists, like relationships between Rio Tinto and the University of Sydney, and GlaxoSmithKline and Monash University.

Woodthorpe suggested that superannuation funds have a role to play in Australia’s innovation growth, and that fund managers need to realise this in order to support their next generation of members. Another barrier to innovation is the lack of digital experience in the top 300 ASX companies. Boards need to see technology as a future business model, not a piece of equipment, she said.

Newly returned from the US and now heading up Commercial Strategy at the Kinghorn Centre for Clinical Genomics at the Garvan Institute, Dr Russell J Howard has had recent success at raising capital for a new venture. He believes the three key imperatives to commercialisation success are:

  1. To nurture smart capital, and to show founders how to create good intellectual property;
  2. To create an innovative environment;
  3. To enable access to experienced management – people who have experience in commercialisation.

Finally, Mr Peter Yates AM, Deputy Chairman of the Myer Family Investments talked about his own support of start-ups. He likes to collect entrepreneurs rather than artists – in 15 years both have usually increased in value!

– Karen Taylor-Brown, CEO and Publisher at Refraction Media