Future priorities for STEM education stakeholders

I decided it was time to interview some very influential stakeholders in the STEM space, and share some of their insights and opinions.

How can we raise the standard of science, mathematics and ICT in schools?

Good student outcomes are driven by a number of factors, but principally the quality of the teacher. In turn, the calibre of the teacher is driven by the quality of their initial teacher education and post-training professional development. We need to invest more in our teachers.
Tony Peake, National Leader – Government, PricewaterhouseCoopers

We need to choose the right people to start with, invest in educating teachers and we need to use frameworks such as the AITSL standards to support teachers to be aspirational in their practice. Everybody seems to think that because they’ve been to school they can teach. We need to get more savvy regarding this and put processes in place that will allow us to select those with the highest potential to teach and then support them through innovative pre-service courses.  In terms of the existing workforce, the teachers we have are the teachers we will have and the vast majority are committed, exemplary teachers, so this is the group we need to work with. To support better teaching, we need to select the right people to undertake upskilling, deliver a quality course, and ensure that the school culture is one where teachers are supported to teach in 21st century ways that will allow our students to develop the skills they need now, not those they needed 30 years ago.
Glenys Thompson, Deputy Principal, Australian Science and Mathematics School

In your opinion what is the answer to increasing the number of STEM teachers in primary and secondary education?

At secondary, I don’t see the issue as a shortage of STEM teachers, it’s more a shortage of quality stem teachers, including those who are willing to teach in particular geographic locations. Since the GFC there has been an increase in enrolments in university science teaching qualifications, especially at the post graduate level. While there isn’t a direct correlation between teacher qualification and teacher quality, there will be issues. In my previous role I was regularly contacted by qualified, unemployed science and maths teachers who berated me for ‘making more maths and science teachers when I can’t get a job’. I offered to help them with applications and also by checking what their referees were saying. Without exception, for those who gave me permission to do this the feedback was unequivocal – they were poor teachers. Two quotes that stay in my mind are ‘I couldn’t comment on their ability to teach because I never saw them but we did drive to and from work together every day’ and ‘if I employed him again my principal would kill me’. So, while we have poor quality control over qualification, we won’t have a reliably quality workforce. Hopefully the AITSL work will support a move towards a quality teaching workforce.

Glenys Thompson, Deputy Principal, Australian Science and Mathematics School

To increase the number of STEM teachers we need to change the market dynamics, either by paying STEM teachers more (to drive the supply of teachers up), or by making the career value proposition in some way more attractive than it is today. To change the system will take a number of years; it can’t happen overnight.
Tony Peake, National Leader – Government, PricewaterhouseCoopers

What is the answer to exciting, engage and attracting young people into STEM learning and future pathways?

Exciting, engaging and attractive career pathways! At the moment it’s pretty hard to sell – no minister of science, very few scientists have tenure, many unemployed engineers etc etc. We need to, as a society, embrace the way that these pathways value add to our society and see it as part of the solution to the economy not as a cost.
Glenys Thompson, Deputy Principal, Australian Science and Mathematics School

We need to make STEM subjects more interesting to study, and show how they are relevant to everyday life. In many cases secondary students shy away from STEM subjects, which are seen as ‘hard’, as they want to maximise their ATAR score.
Tony Peake, National Leader – Government, PricewaterhouseCoopers


What role do you think employers from across business and industry can play to ensure STEM graduates are more work ready?

Employers can continue to provide internships and pathways. It’s very difficult at the moment for new graduates to access employment because of the glut of workers within the STEM workforce; we need partnerships and honesty between employers and universities in determining intakes. Involving employers in pre-employment training has huge benefits as well and is a great investment that employers can make in the future of their business.
Glenys Thompson, Deputy Principal, Australian Science and Mathematics School

This question doesn’t make sense to me. Employers see it as the role of universities to better ensure graduates are “work ready”. This includes a number of non-technical skills such as presentation skills, teamwork, report writing, etc.
Tony Peake, National Leader – Government, PricewaterhouseCoopers

How can we better anticipate the future skills needed? What are the likely STEM growth areas going to be? How can we predict the future requirements for the labour market?

This is the million dollar question. Continuing funding based on a ‘rear view mirror’ approach won’t work.  We need to talk to people at the cutting edge and listen to them, especially entrepreneurs.
Glenys Thompson, Deputy Principal, Australian Science and Mathematics School

PwC is currently working on exactly this question
Tony Peake, National Leader – Government, PricewaterhouseCoopers


How can we improve today’s skills set and encourage the younger generation into considering the endless possibilities of STEM?

We need to do a better job of showing why STEM matters, what types of future jobs will require STEM skills, how STEM skills are very relevant in everyday life, etc.
Tony Peake, National Leader – Government, PricewaterhouseCoopers


Abandoning the ‘knowledge base is king’ mentality will go a long way. We live in a cluttered world and it’s no longer possible to know everything about everything. We need to focus on the capabilities that will enable full participation in the workforce of the future – critical and creative thinking, literacy, numeracy, communication, team work etc. These are the skills that employers now recruit for.
Glenys Thompson, Deputy Principal, Australian Science and Mathematics School

What is the biggest priority for universities in order to achieve greater STEM participation?

Universities need to encourage secondary students to take up STEM courses. Universities have at least in part contributed to the decline of STEM studies at secondary school, as they have removed subjects such as advanced maths, physics and chemistry from the prerequisites list of many courses, even including engineering. We seem to be caught in a negative loop.
Tony Peake, National Leader – Government, PricewaterhouseCoopers

How can we improve the take up of tertiary level courses and career pathways?

Better showcase to secondary students where STEM courses can lead, the options they make available to students, the earnings potential of various STEM careers.
Tony Peake, National Leader – Government, PricewaterhouseCoopers

What role can Government Departments of Education play in supporting access to STEM education?

Government education departments could open more specialist STEM schools, to provide opportunities for talented kids from any background to pursue STEM studies; this could be further enabled by providing scholarships and/or transport cost reimbursement to ensure lower socioeconomic status kids have equal access. Government education departments could also push to provide bonus marks for studying STEM subjects in Year 12.
Tony Peake, National Leader – Government, PricewaterhouseCoopers

Education authorities can support access to STEM education by working with all stakeholders to ensure there are a range of opportunities that students can access and supporting this through the provision of a coordinating role. There are so many fantastic programs being run by incredible individuals and groups but it is hard to know about them and which ones are best to tap into as  they often happen in isolation and it’s very hit and miss if you hear about them.
Glenys Thompson, Deputy Principal, Australian Science and Mathematics School


Where do you see the potential for greater collaborative working across schools, universities, departments of education and employers to reverse the decline in STEM participation?

Prime Minister Abbott, following a visit to a school in Brooklyn, New York, run by an IT company, that trains students in vocational skills for IT jobs, said this was a model worth considering.  Mentoring of students by relevantly skilled corporate executives possessing a working with children card is another form of collaboration.
Tony Peake, National Leader – Government, PricewaterhouseCoopers

We need each of the groups to be collaborative in their involvement, and leave their personal biases at home.  We can’t get a good solution here where different groups have different motivators; we all need to be working towards the common good. Not only that, we need to make STEM sexy and relevant to the 21st century learner. We need to collaborate across all of these groups so that students can make truly informed decisions about their career pathways, not based on watching ‘CSI’ or ‘Silk’.
Glenys Thompson, Deputy Principal, Australian Science and Mathematics School