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We need to share STEAM data and knowledge

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The edict to go forth and STEAM has been delivered but it could be much more effective with increased data and interchange of results and ideas.

The Optimising STEM Industry-SchoolPartnerships: Inspiring Australia’s Next Generation report says that while there are hundreds of STEAM initiatives being implemented across schools in Australia there is no information being gathered and disseminated as to whether these initiatives are achieving good outcomes, what those outcomes are and whether they should be scaled up.

The report says a connected evidence base is needed to enable better analysis of STEAM student progress to assist policy makers to direct resources efficiently.

There are a huge number of STEM initiatives, projects and partnerships targeted to Australian school students, with the STARportal including over 500 initiatives alone.

While many activities and resources include some form of evaluation, there is no nationally consistent framework to determine and compare how successful these initiatives are.

The report says that It is important to consider the intended educational outcomes and impacts before designing or funding STEM school education initiatives.

In New South Wales, the Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation provides advice on undertaking evaluations, including of STEM initiatives, using explicit standards and criteria and exploring causality and effect.

Another resource is the Australian Teaching and Learning Toolkit, which is a website supported by Social Ventures Australia and the Education Endowment Foundation that provides an easy to navigate snapshot of the cost, average impact and evidence base of 34 different approaches to improving learning outcomes in schools.

The National STEM Education Resources Toolkit

The report suggested a central place for sharing information from STEAM programs would be a good thing.

A simple toolkit to assist schools and industry to understand best practice in STEAM initiatives, evaluate existing and future STEAM initiatives, and provide guidance for designing and building industry-school partnerships should be set up as an online resource.

The toolkit should:

  • consolidate and provide easy access to resources and guidance on industry-school partnerships,
  • showcase existing high quality, scalable partnerships with proven impact, in which industry can invest,
  • identify intermediaries that can help schools and industry set up new partnerships,
  • assist in defining outcomes and evaluating and measuring the impact of partnerships,
  • provide guidance on ways to engage underrepresented groups, and
  • leverage existing platforms wherever

A Unique Student Identifier

There are a range of datasets across the primary and secondary schooling sectors held by state and territory governments and non-government education authorities which could usefully be connected.

Knowing which programs have an impact on student outcomes is crucial for targeting investment, resources and interventions for both governments and industry. To do this effectively requires detailed analysis over many years of student progress, learning gaps and the factors that influence education outcomes.

A national Unique Student  Identifier (USI) would make available two types of data: aggregated de-identified data for research and evaluation purposes, and student level data that will have strict access and privacy controls. For their individual data sets, students should have the right to decide what information is shared with teachers and other professionals.

The national USI would link the datasets of current systems in different states and territories so a student’s learning outcomes can be tracked through school, VET and higher education. Students will benefit as they are able to access richer records of their schooling and have these records follow them as they transition between schools.

Teachers would be able to retrieve a longitudinal record for individual students, which would be particularly valuable when students move between school sectors or between states.

In the longer term, a USI would have the added benefit of reducing duplication and cost of data collection and reporting.

A national STEAM education dashboard

As part of the National School STEAM Education Strategy, Education Ministers have committed to a national collaborative action to build national reports to chart national change in a range of STEAM data indicators, for example, STEAM participation and attainment (including a focus on girls, low SES, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students), university commencements and graduate outcomes, and employment outcomes.

The Forum supported the need for a richer understanding of student performance in STEM disciplines and suggested that this be expanded to include industry demand for STEAM skills. This was a key theme in consultations.

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