Congratulations to Hunter Industry News for publishing edition #1 in September. The magazine includes an opinion piece from the ME Program Director titled “A focus on STEM education could bring billions to Hunter economy”.
The Hunter is leading the way in modern education practises, and a focus on the connections between Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics is key, writes RDA Hunter’s ME Program Director Dr Scott Sleap.
In recent years and during the election campaign much has been made of the acronym STEM. The acronym stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. However, what STEM means and its significance is often poorly understood.
Many people attribute STEM to the literal meaning of the disciplines and believe that simply by doing more or in fact spending more on the different silos of STEM, it will produce a result. However, STEM is about the connections between and amongst the STEM disciplines. As science relies on engineering, mathematics and technology, and engineering depends on findings from science, the application of mathematics and the use of technological tools, a siloed approach is doomed to failure.
In the late 18th century Prussia developed what is now the basis of our current education system. That is, compulsory education, schools organised in year groups and individual subjects such as English, Mathematics and Science taught in isolation. The Prussian education system was developed to produce a population that would be productive in the industrialised world of the 18th and 19th century. Much has changed in society since, particularly in the last 50 years and our education system has not adapted to the changing nature of the workplace post industrial revolution.
Recent calls for a national debate on the importance of STEM, led by the former Chief Scientist of Australia, Professor Ian Chubb, have been having some positive effects. In 2011 a group of teachers and industry representatives from the Hunter developed an integrated STEM curriculum for Year 9 and 10 students. This course was offered to other schools in NSW and its popularity has led to the number of schools doubling each year since its inception and now stands at 118.
Subjects like iSTEM promote more connected and real world approaches to teaching and learning. It develops essential 21st century skills such as complex problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, teamwork, decision making and cognitive flexibility. It also involves local industry in the creation of problems to be solved that are real world and require an integrated STEM based solution.
Post mining boom in the Hunter, local industry is adapting to the changing nature of the local and global economy. We see many examples of innovative and creative industries being developed. However, as with the mining boom, where substantial skill shortages affected economic development, we now see STEM skills shortages having a similar effect. In the Port Stephens area, where youth unemployment is stubbornly high, the local aerospace industry must source suitably skilled labour from interstate or overseas to meet their growth needs.
The implications of STEM for the Hunter cannot be underestimated. According to PwC if we could move just 1% of the workforce into STEM roles this would increase gross domestic product in Australia by $57.4 billion. As the Hunter makes up 9.8% of the total economy this could equate to $5.6 billion for our local economy. In order for the Hunter to continue to be an economic power house we need to develop the workforce of the future to support the emerging STEM based industries of the Hunter.
Opinion piece from the Hunter Industry News http://hunterindustrynews.com.au/