STEM refers to science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Occupations and careers that are reliant on the principles and concepts of these subjects have been gaining a lot of importance in recent years, and that will continue to be the case for years to come. In order to ensure that the youth of Australia excel in these subjects, to help cultivate an interest in studying these subjects, there will need to be an adequate supply of trained teachers in these subjects.
A study in 2015, showed that this is not necessarily the case. A rise in the number of students across Australia is now causing a significant discrepancy between this number and the number of available skilled teachers. Based on the report, the gap is expected to widen until 2020 – even without an additional increase in the student population. Another trend that was highlighted in the report was the fact that during the 10 years prior to the report, 2 out of every 10 teachers in primary schools were male. This gender balance also differs according to the subjects as three-quarters of physics teachers are male. 40% of these males, however, are over 50 and will therefore probably be retiring in the next 15 to 20 years. They also found similar statistics for the subjects of mathematics, chemistry, computing and IT. These numbers suggest an impending shortage of teachers in STEM-related fields, as they remain largely male-dominated subjects, once these teachers leave the teaching profession for retirement.
The New South Wales Audit Office released a report in January this year with similar findings. Insufficient numbers of qualified STEM teachers were attributed to an increase in student population, an ageing workforce and the reduction in the numbers of people entering the teaching profession. They also found high numbers of “out-of-field” teaching – a term used to describe a situation where teachers teach subjects that they were not familiar with. One-fifth of the teachers surveyed mentioned that they would teach out-of-field for at least five hours every two weeks. And this has played a role in the drop in student engagement.
Preventing the problem
With clear evidence to show that there is a lack of qualified STEM teachers, Australia must now try and combat the problem. The NSW audit recommended that their Department of Education work on ways to attract and retain teachers in the field. Some suggestions included investigation and adjustment to the current scholarship programs available. Others included better career pathways, monetary incentives and improved professional work environments.
Tapping on home-grown start-up companies is another way to move forward. Some Australian companies are now trying to help teachers with their administrative tasks, reducing the amount of take-home work, stress and more boring tasks teachers have to do.
STEMmates – Cultivating curiosity, imagination and passion
STEMmates is here to help with the problem. Our experienced teachers inspire students and encourage them to stay up-to-date with STEM – not just during our courses, but into their futures. Our courses are designed to stimulate the minds of young learners and keep them wanting to learn more, and hopefully, become teachers themselves in the future.
Find out how you get your child started on his STEM journey today by reading our Facebook and website pages.