The STEM literacy imperative

Monday, 24 August, 2020

The STEM literacy imperative

Despite the prevalence of information related to STEM education, a new report from Monash Education Futures shows there is a lack of broad societal understanding of the term and discrepancies in how professionals define and discuss the STEM discipline.

Some teachers also struggle to implement new, fun and student-centred approaches to STEM education, citing lack of time for collaboration and instruction, and inadequate resources.

The purpose of learning STEM subjects in school is to deliver a scientific and technologically literate population — which will increasingly be required outside of the traditional STEM workforce if global economic and environmental challenges are to be met. Society’s current conditions necessitate multifaceted responses, solutions and approaches, calling on skill sets inherently developed via STEM integrated education. 

Not fully embraced, despite funding

Despite more than $64 million in federal government funding to support early learning and school STEM initiatives as part of the broader $1.1 billion National Innovation and Science Agenda, the sector hasn’t fully embraced the potential for STEM education to boost students’ critical thinking and creativity.

Monash Education Futures Director Professor Deborah Corrigan has examined more than 200 research articles, books and reports to gather evidence and provide advice to everyone from parents to policymakers about the importance of STEM education.

Findings are published in the new Spotlight Report 2 titled: Implementing an Integrated STEM Education in Schools: Five Key Questions Answered’.

Collaboration and support necessary for success

Corrigan said effective STEM education required dedicated, organised and knowledgeable individuals who are given the time to collaborate and the support to be successful.

“There is one common feature of all STEM learning: the opportunity for students to apply the skills and knowledge that they have learnt or are learning,” Corrigan said.

“Teachers can take advantage of children’s inherent ability to look for patterns when trying to make sense of the world and adopt instructional strategies that bridge the gap between the classroom and real-life experience.

“If integrated STEM education is to become a reality in schools, then schools and teachers must provide opportunities for learning experiences that are authentic to the context, to the practice of professionals, to a person and to values.”

Benefits beyond context knowledge

Corrigan says STEM education removes traditional barriers between the disciplines, integrates these disciplines into learning experiences in real-world contexts and teaches students how to problem-solve and innovate.

The report finds that when students engage with an integrated curriculum, they develop not only content knowledge and disciplinary skills, but also a much broader range of skills such as problem-solving, creativity and augmentation.

International studies have found students in integrated curriculum programs consistently outperform others in traditional classes or national standardised tests, and that science and/or mathematics taught in the context of design boosts students’ achievement, interest, motivation and self-efficacy.

“It is higher-order thinking that sets humans apart from computer data processing. Higher-order thinkers demonstrate nuanced judgement, are able to solve complex problems, live well with uncertainty, are able to self-regulate and are able to execute sensible judgement when required,” Corrigan said.

“It is clear from our research that traditional notions of classroom, with their emphasis on teacher-centred approaches, need rethinking in order to realise the long-term benefits STEM education can deliver.”

How is success measured?

The report finds that STEM education success is not measured only by student outcomes, but also by teacher professionalism and quality practice. Students that successfully engage with STEM education should be able to demonstrate greater confidence in real-world problem-solving, along with improved teamwork and communication skills.

Successful STEM integration should promote the professional growth of educators and deliver increased self-efficacy, improved understanding of STEM content and increased pedagogical content knowledge.

For a copy of the full report or the research brief, visit the Monash University Education Futures website here. For further information on designing the innovative learning environments of tomorrow, download the institute’s Spotlight Report 1 ‘Responsible Innovation- Designing Schools for Tomorrow’s Learners’ here.

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