science and mathematics are not cool subjects, say students. Consequently, if these subjects are compulsory, students opt for an easier stream in secondary school and are less promised to transition to university science programs. In addition, female students are under-represented in areas such as mathematics, physics and astronomy. Around the world, the STEM subjects (technology, science, Engineering, and Mathematics) are in grave trouble in secondary and tertiary institutions. But worse, STEM college graduates may not work in a field of their expertise, leaving STEM agencies and organizations to hire from a shrinking pool.
In 1995, 14% of Year 12 secondary school mathematics students studied advanced mathematics, while 37% studied elementary mathematics, according to the Australian Mathematical science Institute. Fifteen years later, in 2010, 10 percent were studying sophisticated and intricate mathematics and 50 percent took the easier option of elementary mathematics. The Australian Mathematical science Institute revealed that basic mathematics was growing in popularity among secondary students to the detriment of intermediate or complex studies. This has resulted in fewer universities offering higher mathematics courses, and subsequently there are reduced graduates in mathematics. There have also been reduced intakes in teacher training colleges and university teacher education departments in mathematics programs, which have resulted in many low-income or remote secondary schools without higher level mathematics teachers, which further resulted in fewer science courses or the elimination of specific topics from courses. For some mathematics courses, this is producing a continuous cycle of low supply, low demand, and low supply.
But is it in fact a dire problem? The first question is one of supply. Are universities producing enough quality scientists, technology experts, engineers, and mathematicians? Harold Salzman of Rutgers university and his research colleague, B. Lindsay Lowell of Georgetown college in Washington D.C., revealed in a 2009 study that, contrary to widespread perception, the United States continued to produce technology and engineering graduates. However, fewer than half actually accepted jobs in their field of expertise. they are shifting into sales, marketing, and health care jobs.
The second question is one of demand. Is there a continuing demand for STEM graduates? An October 2011 report from the Georgetown university’s Centre on Education and the Workforce confirmed the high demand for technology graduates, and that STEM graduates were paid a greater starting salary than non-science graduates. The Australian Mathematical technology Institute said the demand for doctorate graduates in mathematics and stats will rise by 55% by 2020 (on 2008 levels). In the United Kingdom, the Department for Engineering and science report, The Supply and Demand for science, technology, Engineering and Mathematical Skills in the UK Economy (Research Report RR775, 2004) projected the stock of STEM graduates to rise by 62 percent from 2004 to 2014 with the highest growth in subjects allied to medicine at 113%, biological technology at 77%, mathematical science at 77%, computing at 77%, engineering at 36%, and physical science at 32%.
Fields of particular growth are predicted to be agricultural science (food production, disease prevention, biodiversity, and arid-lands research), biotechnology (vaccinations and pathogen science, medicine, genetics, cell biology, pharmagenomics, embryology, bio-robotics, and anti-ageing research), energy (hydrocarbon, mining, metallurgical, and renewable energy sectors), computing (such as video games, IT security, robotics, nanotechnologies, and space technology), engineering (hybrid-electric automotive technologies), geology (mining and hydro-seismology), and environmental technology (water, land use, marine science, meteorology, early warning system, air pollution, and zoology).
So why aren’t graduates undertaking science careers? The reason is because it’s just not cool — not at secondary school, nor at college, nor in the workforce. Georgetown college’s CEW reported that American technology graduates viewed traditional technology careers as “too socially isolating.” In addition, a liberal-arts or business education was sometimes regarded as more flexible in a fast-changing job market.
How can governments make technology cool? The challenge, says Professor Ian Chubb, head of Australia’s Office of the Chief Scientist, is to make STEM subjects more attractive for scholars, particularly females — without dumbing down the content. Chubb, in his well being of Australian technology report (May 2012), indicated that, at research level, Australia has a relatively high scholarly output in technology, producing more than 3% of world scientific publications yet accounting for only about 0.3% of the world’s population. Australian-published scholarly outputs, including fields other than science, grew at a rate of about 5% per year between 1999 and 2008. This was considerably higher than the global growth rate of 2.6 percent. But why isn’t this scholarly output translating into public knowledge, interest, and participation in science?
Chubb promotes a two-pronged approach to the dilemma: 1. science education: enhancing the quality and engagement of science teaching in schools and universities; and 2. science workforce: the infusion of technology communication into mainstream consciousness to promote the benefits of scientific work.
Specifically, Chubb calls for creative and inspirational teachers and lecturers, along with an increase in female academics, for positive role modeling, and to set technology in a modern context. Instead of restructuring and changing the curriculum, he advocates training teachers to create methods to make mathematics and technology more relevant to students’ lives. Communicating about technology in a more mainstream manner is also critical to imparting the value of scientific innovation. Chubb is a fan of social media to bring technology into the mainstream and to change people’s perception of technology careers and scientists. Social media can also bring immediacy to the rigor, analysis, observation and practical components of technology.
In practical terms, the recent findings on student attitudes to STEM subjects, their perception of scientific work, and the flow of STEM graduates to their field of expertise, may be improved by positively changing the way governments, scientists, and educators communicate technology on a day-to-day level.
Contextual, situational, relevant science education is more likely to establish links between theory and practical application. This can be shown in detail through real-world applications, including science visits and explorations in the local environment, at all levels of education. Even college students should avoid being cloistered in study rooms, and be exposed to real world, real environment situations. Furthermore, technology educators advocate the use of spring-boarding student queries, interests, and get-up-and-go into extra-curriculum themes that capture their imagination and innovation. Therefore, enabling scholars to expand core curricula requirements to include optional themes, projects, competitions, and activities chosen by individual scholars, groups, or school clusters lead to increased student (and teacher) motivation and participation. In addition, integrating and cross-fertilizing technology with non-technology subjects and day-to-day activities (e.g. the science of chocolate, sport technology, technical drawings, artistic design, and clothing design) can powerfully place STEM subjects firmly into practical software. “Scientists in residence” programs, in which local scientists work periodically in school and college settings, can inspire students and provide two-way communication opportunities. In addition, international collaborations between schools of different regions or countries through a range of technologies demonstrate and reinforce teamwork in the scientific workplace — as a way to make a cadre of professionals, exchange concepts, network, cooperate, economize, and create culturally diverse outcomes of excellence.
These approaches can provide a more realistic idea of the work scientists perform from a local to a global state of mind.
- Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance receives grant for extracurricular STEM learning (mainedoenews.net)
- Local schools join in effort to increase STEM graduates (bizjournals.com)
- UNE scholarships available for future STEM students (mainedoenews.net)
- The Crisis Over Science And Math In Schools Is A Myth (spectrum.ieee.org)
- Why Are There Still So Few Women in Science? (richarddawkins.net)
- Three mathematics professors use technology in Statistics (theweeklysillimanian.wordpress.com)
- Wisconsin and the Common Core math standards (quomodocumque.wordpress.com)
- Meyerhoff Scholars Program (tjhscounseling.wordpress.com)
- Fashionable Fridays ~ L’Oreal’s Women in STEM Chat Accessories & Beauty (kittenlounge.onsugar.com)
- Mainers finalists for nation’s top teaching award in math, science (mainedoenews.net)