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.”
Featured image above: Nat Chapman recently welcomed a year 10 STEM work experience student, Isabella, to gemaker
Think back to your formative years. Was there an experience that inspired you follow the career path you did? Or a person who made a difference in the choices you made?
If we truly want to attract the brightest minds to science and technology, STEM companies have a responsibility to inspire the next generation of innovators.
We have a responsibility to give opportunities to high school and university students in the form of STEM work experience and access to our staff.
And a responsibility to make those opportunities genuine, inspiring experiences – not just something to tick a box.
A week in the life of gemaker
When a work experience student came knocking on gemaker’s door, we had one warning for her – we don’t do boring.
Photocopying was off the cards.
Instead, she spent a busy week meeting researchers, assisting with events, attending client meetings and working on projects that gave her real insight into the world of research, commercialisation and start-up culture.
In a single week, gemaker’s work experience student:
attended the AGM of an ASX-listed mining company and spoke to shareholders and directors;
watched researchers training in how to pitch to industry;
toured a university robotics lab;
filmed scientists with a videographer;
visited a start-up technology company;
went to a business meeting with a potential client;
helped create an infographic explaining the commercialisation of research;
compiled survey data;
wrote an article on her experience for the gemaker website.
Through it all, the student was a delight to take out.
She asked interesting and intelligent questions, and the enthusiasm she showed reminded us why we got into this business in the first place.
Yes, it can be challenging to design a program for a STEM work experience student.
Yes, it might be easier to point them at the lunchroom and the photocopier.
But if a small business like gemaker can do it, imagine the opportunities large, established companies and research organisations might be able to offer.
With a STEM work experience student, you win too
Taking on a work experience student can be exciting and have huge personal rewards for you too. A student can help you revitalise, recharge and remember what you love about your profession. It is inspiring to watch them be inspired.
Students can offer a different viewpoint, new ideas and a two-way learning opportunity that might surprise you. Why not ask a student how they think you could improve your social media presence?
Work experience is pivotal to the choices kids make in upper high school and beyond.
If we want to see more students in STEM, and believe passionately in the value of science and innovation, we have a social responsibility as a STEM organisation to provide genuine opportunities for students.
If we don’t make time for the next generation, we’re losing a massive opportunity to show what researchers can do.
Where to start
If you’re not sure how to go about inviting students into your workplace, here are three steps you can take this week:
Tell staff that STEM work experience opportunities are available if they know students with a keen interest in science.
See what STEM work experience programs are running at your own child’s school, and if you can contribute.
Reach out to your local high school (start with the principal) to offer your services to the school.
You have the power within your hands to totally inspire a student or utterly turn them off.
At gemaker, we don’t have all the answers but we’re doing our bit.
And if each of us contributes, we can inspire the next generation and attract the brightest young minds to science and innovation.