The Challenge

In 2003, over 15 years ago, a Department of Education, Science, and Training conducted a review of teaching and teacher education called Australia’s Teachers, Australia’s Future, looked into the advancement of innovation, science, technology and mathematics. This 2003 report  noted that:

  • a declining proportion of students completed Year 12 studies in physics, chemistry, biology and advanced mathematics
  • there were insufficient numbers of highly trained teachers in science, technology and advanced mathematics
  • there was uncertainty among primary school teachers about how best to teach science, accompanied by primary teachers’ relatively low levels of interest and academic attainment in science and mathematics
  • teaching did too little to stimulate curiosity, problem solving, depth of understanding and continued interest in learning among students, or to thus encourage them to undertake advanced study in science and mathematics at school and beyond.

in 2018, some 15 years later, an Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) report “ Challenges in STEM learning in Australian schools: Literature and Policy Review” had this to say.

PageACER Paper (2018)
9In respect of the 2003 review,

“There have been further reviews and some changes since 2003, notably the implementation of a national curriculum, which itself has been reviewed since it was implemented. A great deal has been written on the importance of STEM to Australia’s future.

It is therefore concerning that a report written this long ago still accurately portrays the present state of affairs.”
14“Has something changed in the primary education workforce, the primary curriculum or the primary school students that explains the decline in performance and interest in STEM?

One policy response to this perceived area of weakness has been to recommend placing specialist STEM teachers into primary schools (Caplan, Baxendale & Le Feuvre, 2016; Prinsley & Johnston,

2015). Pezaro (2017), however, warns that science specialist teachers in primary schools are not the answer if they simply provide release time for class teachers who then don’t have to worry about science teaching.

Professional development that enables generalist teachers to build skills and confidence in STEM teaching is seen as a more sustainable strategy.
10An analysis indicates that performance on national and international assessments in mathematics, science and ICT has not changed in one to two decades.

This analysis is an impressive piece of research summarising student performance across STEM-related subjects between 2000 and 2015 across different year levels. A fragment is shown below