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Birmingham’s STEM solution shortcut a thought-bubble 

From the Australian Education Union

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Simon Birmingham’s solution to fix shrinking school student science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) enrolments fails to address the real issue of having a comprehensive plan to fix teacher shortages.

Australian Education Union Federal President Correna Haythorpe said that any fix for boosting STEM enrolments needed to consider all aspects of the problem, including facilities and equipment as well as STEM teacher numbers.

“Any approach to addressing falling STEM enrolments must be part of a comprehensive plan to ensure all public schools are properly resourced, so they can attract and retain STEM staff,” Haythorpe said.

“We do need more properly-qualified STEM teachers, now and in the future. However current teacher shortages are significant, and Simon Birmingham is only making the problem worse by cutting $1.9 billion out of the public school system in the next two years.”

“Minister Birmingham thinks he can take shortcuts to fixing the issue by giving speeches and setting ten-year goals, but he is avoiding the hard work,”Haythorpe said.

“What we haven’t heard from Minister Birmingham today is any sign of a plan for how he is going to boost STEM enrolments, he has no real strategy on how to make this happen.”

“The solution isn’t just using technical solutions such as ‘teaching by video’ or by employing people without the proper teaching qualifications, such as through the ‘Teach For Australia’ scheme.”

“Minister Birmingham’s vague timetable of boosting STEM teacher numbers over five or 10 years, without committing to providing any additional education funding, is not a plan or a strategy in any sense of the word."

Data from the OECD Programme for International School Assessment and the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study from 2017 showed that Year 8 maths and science students in adequately-resourced schools performed significantly better than those in under-resourced schools.

The studies also showed that staff shortages are six times more likely to impact students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and these students are three times more likely to be at a school where poor infrastructure impacts on learning.

The data also showed that:

  • Principals reported 55 per cent of students attended schools where maths teaching was affected by a lack of resourcing, and 69 per cent where science teaching was affected.
  • Student performance is heavily influenced by the level of school resourcing, with Year 8 students at schools where science and maths instruction were not affected by resource shortages achieving an average science score significantly higher than at schools that were affected by shortages.
  • Australian students in the lowest SES quartile are six times more likely to be at a school where the principal reports staff shortages as students in the highest-SES quartile (36 per cent versus 6 per cent)
  • Principals reported that 34 per cent of low-SES students were at schools where inadequate infrastructure hindered their capacity to provide instruction, compared with 12 per cent of high-SES students.

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