Australia’s Chief Scientist has released an issues paper to explore how industry can work more closely with the education sector to redress Australia’s skills gap in the areas of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). The paper, entitled Optimising STEM Industry-School Partnerships, invites responses from organisations and individuals with an interest in ensuring that young people in Australia can developed the science and mathematics competencies they need to succeed in STEM-based careers.

While our school system remains above average among OECD countries, the achievement of Australian students across science, literacy and numeracy is declining. Developed by the STEM Partnerships Forum established in 2017, the issues paper seeks to identify how industry can help build capacity amongst students and their teachers. It also looks at what role industry can play to educate parents about STEM disciplines and the role they play in ensuring their children’s future success.

Benchmarking success

There are already hundreds of industry-supported STEM programs in place but little evaluation exists to identify which ones are most effective. There is also a risk that without coordination, scare resources may be wasted on duplication.

A key concern is the absence of robust measurement systems to evaluate existing STEM programs. Without a evaluation framework, it is impossible to understand what works and what doesn’t. For this reason, the paper proposes the creation of a STEM evaluation tool to develop an evidence base that will help education leaders and industry work together to design more effective interventions.

Raising the bar

With students increasingly opting out of STEM subjects and lower performance results in maths and science indicating a trend towards mediocrity, the issues paper suggests a range of new actions that may make a difference.

In terms of student retention in science and maths subjects in the critical senior years, the paper suggests that mandating STEM subjects will not work. A better solution it proposes is to make STEM subjects so compelling, stimulating and exciting more students will be inspired to pursue them.

Irresistible STEM subjects will require the recruitment of charismatic and highly skilled teachers. Such educators must not only be confident in their disciplines but also supported by both their school leaders and the education system. Developing skilled STEM teachers is identified as a priority, and teacher professional development is an area ripe for increased industry partnerships.

Developing 21st Century skills

With industry concerned that school leavers are nowhere near work-ready and that university and vocational education courses do not prepare students for specific areas of high-growth employment, other recommendations seek to align higher education with future workforce needs. The paper calls for increased focus on “21st Century skills” that will become more in demand in all workplaces – from problem solving and team work to digital literacy and entrepreneurial mindsets.

Opportunities not threats

The issues paper calls for Australians to regard increasing globalisation, automation and flexibility as opportunities rather than threats. By changing public perceptions about STEM skills, it is hoped that more people will come to understand them as fundamental requirements for the next generation to make the most of exciting global opportunities.

Have your say

The issues paper now invites responses to its recommendations.

Organisations and individuals with an interest in ensuring that young people in Australia have basic science and mathematics competencies and other foundational skills that will prepare them for STEM based careers are encouraged to read it and submit their response by 12 February 2018.

Submissions can be sent to STEMforumsubmissions@education.gov

Optimising STEM Industry-School Partnerships 

More can be found at http://www.chiefscientist.gov.au/2017/06/report-strengthening-school-industry-stem-skills-partnerships/