In the last few decades the shift to the study electives of business, tourism, hospitality and legal studies meant that enrolments in subjects such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics fell below optimal levels. The growing commercial opportunities of employment in those areas was ample encouragement for school leavers not needing or wanting to go onto university for tertiary studies. Those that did go onto university inevitably continued along those fields of study, rather than the science based subjects.
The results of the shortfall of people holding qualifications that are central to the engineering space; science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), is that we have a shortage of home grown experts to meet the demand to fill specialized engineering positions in the market.
Experts agree now that changes need to revert in the primary ecology of our school system; if only for a more balanced and well-rounded education of our future labour market. In reality though we need the skills STEM subjects provide for ideas, innovations, services, products and developments for our Australia’s future.
STEM at Play
Toy manufacturers have consistently invented toys with children’s development in mind. Yes toys need to be fun and engaging, but the successful players have always promoted critical thinking, hand-eye coordination, and problem solving skills, spacial recognition, and creativity as part of their play and learn strategies. All core aspects of STEM learning theologies.
Lego stands behind their product statements in support of STEM learning, and the scientific fact that their toys are major drivers in getting both kids and adults interested in and excited about science; ‘understanding the building blocks of life, the universe and everything.’
Meccano have also spent the last 100 years inspiring engineers and creative minds of all ages. Collaborating with engineering schools and robotic labs, their new systems of play are developed to be specifically compatible with STEM initiatives, for real world outcomes.
School Engagement Initiatives
Engineering Australia, along with the Department of Education, the CSIRO, and other STEM educational and support bodies are all involved in the drive to bring students back to these disciplines, with innovative educational designs to engage students, to ensure the future of the engineering industry remains sustainable for Australia’s future, while remaining competitive in the world stage.
The CSIRO runs a program that teams teachers with STEM professionals, through a range of activities including mentoring and field activities. An innovative primary school program saw kids using catapults and marshmallows to learn about kinetic and potential energy, and bread and yeast to learn about microorganisms and mould. The engaging experiments promote conversation around scientific terminology; they spark inquisitive minds with an interest in science that can be nurtured through ongoing education in that area.
Engineering Australia created EngQuest, specifically to inspire students to pursue science and engineering careers. The free program has been engaging 100,000 students a year since 2014 by providing innovative ways for students and teachers to explore the STEM subjects. The students use low cost and recycled materials to test engineering projects, promoting problem solving skills to motivate them to delve further into STEM pathways.
Dynamic and Relevant Learning
Dr Scott Sleep, who is a leader in STEM Education and workplace development, outlines that the disciplines should not be considered as separate subjects, as they each rely on each other. He believes that project-based learning, incorporating the application of multiple disciplines is the key to teaching how the scientific methods can be applied to everyday life. Dynamic classroom approaches, such as the application of robotics, where problems and challenges are met to encourage understanding, collaboration and innovation are proving effective.
The bottom line is that STEM education is critical and proving effective for the ongoing interest of the scientific and mathematical learning that drives the engineering space; to solve real world problems and maintain progress.