Media release

NSW must overhaul its curriculum to halt student performance declines

December 12 2019

More learning by doing, more specialist STEM teachers and more support for today’s teachers are essential steps, says the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering.

Science, mathematics, engineering and digital technology need to be central to curriculum reform in New South Wales if the current decline in student performance is to be arrested, according to the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE).

Submissions to the NSW Curriculum Review, which has been underway for more than a year, is close this Friday.

ATSE Education Forum chair Professor Peter Lee says the Academy made a submission to the review when it began, urging a stronger focus on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects.

“A year on from that submission, these needs are becoming more urgent, especially after seeing the continuing downward trends in average performance in reading, mathematics and science, in the Australian results of the 2018 PISA survey,” he says.

Analysis by the Academy, which represents Australia’s leading experts in applied science, technology and engineering, suggests the decline in educational outcomes is the product of an ongoing crisis in the field.

“Quite simply, a higher proportion of school students are achieving less than their predecessors,” says Professor Lee.

The Academy’s own research strongly supports the concept of “learning through doing” – designing school curricula to favour applied as well as theoretical STEM teaching.

Professor Lee called for NSW to follow South Australia and introduce the concepts of students designing and completing “major projects” in secondary school.

Vice Chancellor, Peter Lee, VC

Education Forum chair Professor Peter Lee FTSE

Large scale curriculum reform is needed, but it is a process that will necessarily take years and risks disadvantaging children currently within the education system.

Because of this, Professor Lee says, NSW education authorities should aim to introduce multiple changes to process, beginning immediately.

These should include an increase in-service STEM training for existing teachers and a greater focus on hiring STEM-qualified graduates to fill new teaching positions.

“Improvements informed by best practice must be made continuously, within the context of the major reform,” says Professor Lee.

“Early reforms that produce measurable improvements in learning and performance will more rapidly gain community support.”

The Academy, he adds, stands ready to provide professional support and advice to aid the process.


Professor Peter Lee is available for interviews.

Please contact ATSE Communications Officer Benjamin Hickey on 03 98640925 or