Article by Rebecca Barrett, ABC News, 2 September 2014
Australia’s Chief Scientist has unveiled an ambitious agenda for change to increase the focus on science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) skills to help secure the country’s future prosperity.
Professor Ian Chubb AC has outlined a number of recommendations to the Federal Government in a national science strategy to build a more competitive economy.
His call for action involves a long-term strategic view from the classroom to laboratories and the boardroom to create and foster STEM skills, which he says are relevant to an increasingly wide range of occupations.
The strategy outlines a broad approach across four main areas, including building competitiveness, supporting high-quality education and training, maximising research potential and strengthening international engagement.
The strategy has been welcomed by the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute.
Institute director Professor Geoff Prince said a coherent national strategy is necessary.
“We absolutely have to have one. We’ve got ourselves in the situation we’re in through the absence of strategy and absence of strategy is not going to get us out that position,” he said.
Professor Prince agreed that mandating maths subjects for year 11 and 12 students would not be productive, but said studying mathematics is beneficial in a number of ways.
“I’d like [students] to [study maths] because they were engaged and because it was something that was going to be good for their life skills and their career skills,” he said.
He said the system is under-resourced, with 40 per cent of classes in years 7 to 10 not being taught by qualified maths teachers.
“I think we’re actually in that vicious spiral where the numbers of maths graduates are being choked by the declining numbers of kids taking intermediate and advanced maths in year 12,” he said.
“That’s being choked because of a failure to staff schools with inspiring maths teachers, and inspiring maths teachers can’t be had because there aren’t enough maths graduates.
“It’s at a critical level now and unless we act, it’s only going to get worse.
“The consequences, I think, would be absolutely disastrous.”