Why STEM is Important (Opinion)

Why STEM is important
Why STEM is important

Most schools around where I live (Melbourne, Victoria, AUS) now have some kind of STEM going on. Many times it is a separate subject.

But every school has had Science, Technology and Maths departments for decades… So weren’t students doing this already?

I couldn’t piece it together at first so I thought I’d look into a bit more detail to understand why STEM is important myself…

What is STEM? (in three paragraphs)

STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths. But STEM is more than subject matter, it’s about an interdisciplinary, applied based approach.

In STEM, students deal with real-world current issues in the world or community rather than focusing on trying to learn the theory first. The intent is to prepare students for the future workforce and marketplace, which involves using technologies to solve problems.

Like many things the definition is a little different to different people, so Jonathan Gerlach tries to sum up what STEM is by saying “It is about moving forward, solving problems, learning, and pushing innovation to the next level.”.

STEM in the Education State

In Victoria, the state government released this report a few years ago. In a nutshell:

“Over the next 10 years, we want to see a significant improvement in STEM achievement in schools”

STEM in the Education State Report – Department of Education and Training – 2016

The report underlines that achievement in the STEM disciplines (mostly Maths) is not up to standard.

STEM in the education state graphic
Taken from page 4 of this STEM in the education state report

It also talks about why it is so important…

Future Jobs:

“STEM skills are also integral to Victoria’s priority sectors. These have the potential for remarkable growth, driving up economic output and creating over 400,000 jobs for Victorians by 2025.”

STEM in the Education State Report – Department of Education and Training – 2016

The report does identify particular sectors:

  • Medical technology and pharmaceuticals
  • New energy technologies
  • Transport, defence and construction
  • Technologies
  • Food and fibre
  • International education
  • Professional services

It doesn’t seem to be a giant leap to pair subjects in school with jobs and industry.

What the report does infer though (my opinion) is that the traditional pathway of getting students into these subjects is not going to make the numbers up.

So (again opinion) STEM seems to play a role in drawing attention to and developing an interest in these right-brain subjects. Particularly for those who are not typically prone to selecting a Science, Technology, Engineering and/or Maths based career.

Developing an Interest

Logic states that if a student doesn’t choose a subject, then there isn’t much chance they will end up in a career based on that subject.

And students can be influenced in their choices by many different factors, including school-related ones like teachers, peers, curriculum and facilities.

These causes may be a reason that there are not many women in STEM related fields.

There also may be some outside of school-based reasons why more of the ‘high-achieving’ students aren’t picking and staying with it:

  • Money (average earnings for a career)
  • Family (dad wants you to become a doctor, or you’re a family full of lawyers)
  • Role models (someone you look up to is doing something different)
  • Exposure (You don’t know about a particular pathway or career)

Any or all of these causes have made a large section of the student population decide to pass on STEM. And this lack of interest has been picked up on in different studies, testing, and findings…

The Current State of STEM Subject Education:

The other reason that STEM is so important is that testing done by different groups is finding that Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths is a weakness for us.

We all hear that Australian students are lagging behind (along with our compatriots in the US and UK). It comes from results like this one done by PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) and Australia’s NAPLAN (National Assessment Program).

This PISA test does cover Maths and Science and in 2015 we were ranked 25th (Maths) and 14th (Science)

The STEM in the education state report even compared us in Maths to other states and jurisdictions

STEM in the education state graphic
Sobering reading for the people who have ‘the education state’ written on their number plates

What happens next with STEM?

I guess this leads us to what happens next, so let’s surmise what we know so far:

  • Good quality future jobs are important. These jobs have been identified in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math areas
  • Not enough students are choosing subjects related to these areas
  • The results in these subjects aren’t where they could be

And it appears that the STEM we are now seeing in schools is the main initiative to turn this all around.

So will STEM be able to develop an interest in students for Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths subjects?

And will STEM be able to change student perceptions about a Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths, and their related careers?

I guess time will tell if it is the answer, But in the mean time…

The Business of STEM

My friends know that I’ve always loved a conspiracy. But going through the STEM in the Education State report, I counted upwards of $200 million dollars invested into different programs and initiatives.

Which is a fair sized investment.

So will the STEM jobs be there in 2025 as predicted to justify this investment? You’d think so, but only time and scores will tell.

Looking for STEM ideas?

Some of my best STEM ideas are on this page. Thanks for reading, and let you know what you think. You can contact me here.