Australia’s National Science Statement was released in March 2017 and identifies science as one of the critical elements for Australia to deliver new sources of growth, maintain high-wage jobs and seize the next wave of economic propsperity. The statement describes how science – including the natural, physical and life sciences, medical and health sciences, mathematics, engineering and technology-related disciplines – plays an important role in today’s workforce and will become increasingly important in the future.
The statement puts “engaging all Australians with science” as its first principle, followed by “building our scientific capability and skills”. Of particular importance is redressing the STEM skills shortage and decline in participation and performance, with cultural barriers identified as a major concern. Inspiring Australia will continue to play a key role in ensuring that Australians everywhere can engage with science and realise its benefits.
Engagement goals include that:
- Science and mathematics education are interesting, relatable and valued by parents and teachers, supporting high levels of participation and appreciation at all levels of education
- Scientific knowledge and skills are valued by employers and in the workforce
- The general public is engaged by and appreciates science, building support for investment in science
- All Australians have the opportunity to engage with scientists and contribute to scientific processes and discourses
While not everyone needs highly specialised scientific skills, the statement advocates for the need to ensure science literacy so that individuals can make informed decisions about their lives and can participate as informed members of society. Community engagement with science is described as “mutually beneficial”, supporting improved research program design and data collection, strong public discourse about science and better use of scientific information in decision making. STEM education is considered critical to ensure that Australians are able to participate in our increasingly science-driven society, whether through employment or in their everyday lives. Underrepresented groups, including women and girls, Indigenous Australians, and those in rural and regional areas, will be supported to overcome their lower participation rates in many areas of science.
The Government commits to taking a long-term strategic view of skills and talent, ensuring that the Australian education system provides the broad base of STEM skills required for the workforce of the future and that diverse career paths are valued – for example, recognising industry or entrepreneurial experience in academia. Importantly, maintaining STEM skills is identified as a goal requiring more than education and career development, with Inspiring Australia continuing in its role to progress the national strategy for engagement with the sciences to achieve a more innovative culture:
“A scientifically engaged community will value science and understand its importance to Australia’s prosperity and wellbeing, and will participate in public dialogue about science and technology. This can be achieved through maintaining a strong focus on STEM engagement and participation at all levels of society, including within families and communities.
Science engagement is delivered not only by the Australian Government, but also by state and territory governments, many local authorities, the scientific knowledge and outreach sectors, and many parts of the private sector and the community. The government will work with these other key participants in science engagement program delivery to support activities that communicate science, encourage wide community participation in science and inspire excellence in the sciences.”