STEM in the classroom. Photo: Shutterstock
STEM education programs for school-aged students have become ‘little more than fun’ after being watered down to fit into ‘siloed’ academic curricula, a new analysis has warned, while noting that students actively pursue STEM-related careers if effectively engaged.
At least 77% of the 1 million students participating in its targeted education programs have subsequently changed their career motivation to a STEM-related field, Re-Engineering Australia (REA) notes in a new report which revealed that “most STEM programs today conform to a few of the guiding principles of STEM and have become little more than fun value for students”.
These programs are “heavily focused on entertainment to showcase STEM rather than promoting understanding and achievement of academic goals,” REA found, blaming educators on “reverse engineering of STEM in an existing segregated education program“.
REA – which runs school programs such as F1 in schools, SUBS in schools, space in schools and “extreme STEM learning” 4×4 in schools – said students respond strongly to broad and deep curricula shaped by STEM skills and work-relevant soft skills.
“These programs produce outcomes that create a transition in student (and teacher) abilities so profound that they change more than just a person’s knowledge base,” the report notes. “They fundamentally change them.”
As a result, 51% of students who completed the programs said they were more interested in higher education in mathematics, while 60% became more interested in studying science subjects and 85% in improving their their level of education in most areas of learning.
This level of engagement confirms that STEM education in current school years falls short of what is needed to foster lifelong interest in STEM subjects – and this includes both interest in technical areas and cumulative development. soft skills such as collaboration, critical thinking and problem solving.
Soft skills-based jobs are set to account for two-thirds of all jobs by 2030 – but these skills need to be built into the curriculum from the start, REA analysis shows, by linking schools to industry , TAFE, universities and parents “in a collaborative and experiential environment that has demonstrated its ability to instill a capacity for innovation very early in its school years”.
Engage industry earlier
By getting involved early, REA says, industry can foster students’ love of STEM and shape the skills pipeline before students finish school and college, rather than just complaining – when too late to change them – that graduates are not ready to work.
“The once clear separation between what the education system teaches and what is learned once on the job no longer exists,” the report notes, adding that the career intervention programs studied “provide an educational bridge between the traditional pillars of education and the provision of hard and soft skills sought by industry.
Students who have participated in STEM programs “show the ability to make the connections between industry, career opportunities that match their skills and passions, and the roles they can play in their future,” the report notes. .
“The industry must make a sustained effort to provide contact between students and role models, and access to career knowledge, to have a lasting impact on the next generation.”
The findings come as education authorities adopt Australian Program 9.0an update of the National Schools curriculum which restructured the teaching of mathematics,reduced and realigned» the teaching of sciences in primary education, and the renewed teaching of digital technologies.
An Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) review found that even the new curriculum struggles to teach STEM, with 63% of respondents saying revised math curriculum content has not been “refined, realigned and de-cluttered” from previous versions – and 50% say the same on new scientific content.
With general comments that “there is still too much content” or that “the program needs to be decluttered more to achieve better learning outcomes for students”, ACARA pointed to the limitations of the program pointed out by the REA – who believes that new collaborations will help bridge the gap. .
“To meet the demands of an ever-changing educational environment,” notes its report, “it has become crucial to provide approaches to help teachers deliver classroom instruction in new ways that facilitate the development of skills that will facilitate transition of students into the world of work.
Pieter Danhieux, CEO and co-founder of security firm Secure Code Warrior, strongly agrees, noting that “the IT sector could benefit greatly from more efforts to promote STEM disciplines at the high school and university level, especially with those who are underrepresented in these fields.”
“It’s so important that everyone feels welcome to pursue a great career in tech, and exposure is key,” he said. “I would also like to see more education around the huge range of specializations that exist.”