By Jackie Randles
Scientists and Mathematicians in Schools (SMiS) is a national program funded by the Australian Government and managed by CSIRO. SMiS partnerships change perceptions of what a STEM professional is and what they do, making the skills and careers relevant for young and curious minds.
The program develops professional partnerships between school teachers and volunteer STEM professionals who agree to visit the school a couple of times each term to share their love and knowledge about their area of expertise. With over 500 SMiS partnerships active across NSW alone, the program has recently been awarded additional funds by the Australian Government to extend its reach into more schools so that more students can have a chance to meet STEM professionals.
Through these interactions with professionals, it is anticipated that more students will consider pursing STEM subjects and may even pursue a STEM career. This is important because student participation in STEM subjects is declining in Australia despite a growing, worldwide demand for STEM skills.
In a new report The Future of Jobs and Skills, the World Economic Forum states that 65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist. By 2020, more than a third of the desired core skill sets of most occupations will be comprised of skills that are not yet considered crucial to the job today, including STEM skills.
At the moment, Australia’s STEM skills shortage continues to be a major risk to our economy. PWC has identified that 44% of today’s jobs are at risk of digital disruption and 75% of Australia’s future jobs will require strong STEM skills. Other research indicates that we don’t have the capability to meet future workplace needs.
This is alarming when you consider that STEM jobs are identified as the fastest growing area of employment in the economy, with work opportunities growing at 1.5 times the rate of other jobs. So we need to continue to encourage more school students to move into STEM studies at university. With just 16% of students taking STEM degrees as a proportion of all degrees, Australia is well behind many other countries like Singapore (48%), China (41%) and Germany (26%).
Against this backdrop, SMiS is a valuable means of helping Australia catch up with those nations that are producing more STEM skilled graduates. STEM professionals across a range of disciplines and at all stages of their careers are involved and through regular school visits, can help students understand the the exciting careers available to STEM graduates. Participating teachers also gain a deeper understanding of science and technology careers and why having a STEM-skilled workforce matters. A recent evaluation of the program found it to be highly effective, with mutual benefits for students, teachers and participating STEM professionals, particularly in fostering innovation and critical thinking.
Jackie Randles is Manager Inspiring Australia (NSW).