STEM education can change society for at-risk and indigenous students.
Addressing the needs of at-risk pupils, Indigenous Australians and Maori is a critical area in closing the gap in health and employment and was a key focus of the 4th annual STEM education conference in Sydney this week.
Indigenous enrolments in Australia’s major cities – the main STEM employment areas – are one-third of the level in regional areas, data from the federal Department of Education shows.
In STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths), enrolments are the lowest. Just 10 out of 15,000 students enrolled in Australian unis in 2014 were enrolled in a STEM degree.
How STEM education can change society
Genevieve Lazzari, School engagement member, Swinburne Uni Technology was part of a panel looking at how STEM education can change society and says Australia has one of the biggest disparities in the Western world between low SES and high SES schools.
One of the solutions is mentorship, says Lazzari. “We have teachers in [low SES] schools that say ‘we’re just happy if all of our kids sit down in class’, and students who want to study but say their parents are advising leaving in year 10.”
Margaret Shepherd, President of Science Teachers Australia says targeting disengaged students is essential to how STEM education can change society.
“We need to target and identify what is important to students to engage them in the classroom.”
“When you are teaching science you also need to include at point-of-need technology,” she says.
“Some of the rural and remote kids do quite well because they focus on agriculture and what is going on around them every day. But increasingly teaching entrepreneurship skills in these regions will be our next challenge.”
Dorothy Hoddinott AO is Principal of Holyroyd High School and ProVice Chancellor and Fellow of Senate at the University of Sydney. Holyroyd High School is 60% refugee families and 87% are second language learners. Despite their challenges, 60% of students have received university offers, the majority in STEM degrees.
“STEM is really important for disadvantaged students because it creates life opportunities. Despite uncapping enrolments and all of the programs we are losing a lot of talent.”
“The issues for refugees are English language acquisition, literacy and numeracy, trauma and loss and poverty. Schools need to make up that deficit.”
Transformation of work
“Machines are taking over roles that humans used to do. It represents a tectonic change – it’s like the late 19th century and innovation in electricity,” says Liz Jakubowski, Director of Ribit, Data61.
“What we are going through now in terms of technological change is really akin to the evolution in the Cambrian era when a completely new ecosystem evolved.”
“It means a whole range of opportunities and a whole range of unknowns. It is particularly critical for kids who do not have a safety net who don’t have networks of support.”
“The schools that are well supported and have engaged parents are doing fine, it’s those other schools that are dropping through. These schools need to realise what they are missing out on.
“Role models are changing, and it’s really important to show these role models to kids.”
Foundation for Young Australians CEO Jan Owen AM, adds that “Today’s companies are going for skills and capabilities. Young people need to rewrite their skillset and companies need to understand how to hire for employability.”
Maori students in Silicon Valley
Daryn Bean is running a revolutionary program addressing this issue through taking groups of students from small Maori schools to Silicon Valley.
“When Maori students went to Silicon Valley, they went as Maori – as an indigenous people. At Stanford Uni they were doing hakas in the courtyard.”
“When they went to Google they would give gifts. That was essential as they kids found a normality with that – with being global, with pursuing STEM and with being who they are.”
The program, Amua Ao, or Future World, started in 2015 with 12 students and in 2016 saw 75 Maori students visiting STEM centres of excellence.
“The key thing was partnering with iwi (Maori tribes) as student sponsors. It is led by the iwi, who sponsored the students to go, and the program was enabled by government sponsors,” says Bean, who is the Deputy Chief Executive – Maori, New Zealand Qualifications Authority.
“The program made a huge impression upon how Maori students see themselves in the world.”
– Heather Catchpole
Author: Heather Catchpole
Heather co-founded Careers with STEM publisher Refraction Media. She loves storytelling, Asian food & dogs and has reported on science stories from live volcanoes and fossil digs