Media Release

Deep concerns about maths and science decline

December 4 2019

Academy experts available for comment

“We are not equipping our children with the skills they need to compete in the global economy.”

“If we don’t take urgent action to support STEM in schools our kids will be left behind.”

“Out-of-field teaching isn’t fair to our kids, and it’s not fair to the teachers either.”

The Academy is deeply concerned about Australian students’ record low results in reading, maths and science in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report released on 3 December 2019.

We are particularly concerned that the results for maths and science skills are at their lowest level since the survey began.

The Academy agrees with PISA national project manager Sue Thomson: these results show we are not equipping our children with the skills they need to compete in the global economy.

“As we transition to an increasingly digital future, our children will need science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) skills more than any previous generation,” said Academy President Professor Hugh Bradlow FTSE.

“If we don’t take urgent action to support STEM in schools our kids will be left behind.”

“There is strong evidence that the influence of teachers is a significant factor in students’ performance in STEM subjects” Professor Bradlow said.

A 2013 report from the Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA) studied PISA results and found that science, universal learning and economic prosperity are all linked in a single interdependent system.

The ACOLA report found that countries that lead in science and maths education have inspiring teachers who are well trained in a STEM discipline and in pedagogy.

If we are to support the workforce of the future, we need to adopt some of the measures used by countries strong in STEM, including highly qualified and esteemed, well-paid teachers working in meritocratic career structures, a focus on knowledge and disciplinary content, and active curriculum reform with more engaging, problem/inquiry-based learning, and critical and creative thinking.

An example of this active curriculum is the Academy’s STELR program, a hands-on, inquiry-based, in-curriculum resource that show students how science and maths are relevant to their lives and future careers.

Corrimal High School Year 10 students, Melissa Leung, BrighidWalton, Eryn Chaseling and Raphie Burrett try

STELR engages students with practical experimentation and team-based problem solving linked to real-world issues like climate change.

Australia must ensure that all of our science and maths teachers have the confidence they need to inspire students. The Academy maintains that the more rigorously a teacher is trained in STEM education specifically, the greater their capability to nurture and empower the STEM workforce of the future.

All out-of-field teaching in STEM disciplines needs to be eliminated as soon as practicable, and incentives to encourage and support STEM-qualified teachers need to be introduced.

“We need to support schools to ensure that all science and maths teachers are experts in science and maths,” said Academy Education Forum Chair Professor Peter Lee FTSE.

“Out-of-field teaching isn’t fair to our kids, and it’s not fair to the teachers either.”

For more information see the Academy’s Action Statement: World leading STEM teachers for Australia.

For more information contact: Benjamin Hickey, hickey@atse.org.au or 03 98640925

The Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering is an independent Learned Academy that helps Australians understand and use technology to solve complex problems.