“STEM skills shortage…”
With rhetoric like this, you would be forgiven for thinking that the biblical end was nigh.
Such hyperbole does; however, crowd out and undermine a really important message for students and their parents about the value of STEM learning at school.
I prefer to break the message down into 3 parts:
1. STEM doesn’t trump Passion.
If there is one universal truth in education, it is this: as long as a student follows their passion, works hard at it, picks themselves up when the inevitable challenges arise and is along the way kind and respectful to others – they will be good people and will have succeeded.
What attracts me to STEM is that it is another great vehicle for secondary students to begin questioning their society, being creative and passionate about improving their own future. Whether they go on to follow a STEM pathway is not as important as the recognition that these attributes are fundamental.
2. STEM learning helps students develop commercially useful skills.
In a future where companies have access to global pools of skilled labour, being able to differentiate yourself from the pack with a good understanding of data analysis, an understanding of basic engineering and coding/programming skills will be a great starting point. Technology is inherent in all areas of society now and with it has come vast sources of data. In fields such as Health, data-mining and the subsequent analysis for targeted genetic interventions offer potentially revolutionary advances in patient care. In Agriculture, the automation of many labour practices has opened up significant opportunities for scalability and efficiencies. As an agricultural economy, Australia will need knowledgeable people who can overcome the engineering challenges of farming at such levels.
3. Really employable attributes are inherent in the nature of STEM.
Collaboration, communication, problem-solving, resilience… These are not just catchy words but the fundamentally human attributes upon which the individual STEM fields have been based for all of human history. Not everyone needs to be able to solve the Hodge conjecture (but if you can, go here and get recognised!) but the process of approaching such a problem and working with other mathematicians from all over the world builds the kind of humanistic skills that AI will be hard-pressed to replicate.