Starting the school year right: Why STEM needs to be front of mind across the education system
A new year brings with it a sense of excitement and anticipation. In the classroom, teachers are preparing lesson plans, and at home, parents will be experiencing that unique mix of first-day emotions as they send their children back to the classroom for another year of learning.
As thousands of Australian children walk back through the school gates, I can’t help wondering how many will go on to become the next generation of scientists, researchers, innovators and STEM teachers.
I hope many of them – and certainly a significantly higher proportion than we have now.
Science and research careers are exciting and can be enormously rewarding, They’re also hugely important for the future of the nation.
For young people at school today, some of the most exciting future career options will be in renewable technologies and recycling, biotechnology, new forms of food and medicine, quantum technologies, artificial intelligence and robotics.
Australia has an opportunity to build an economic future on these sectors, lifting complexity and shifting to a greater emphasis on high-tech manufacturing.
However, success depends on the right workforce. That means a workforce with strong science, maths and digital skills. It means problem-solving tenacity, a diverse workforce that fully reflects the community, and fresh thinking.
Over the next two years, Australian STEM jobs are expected to grow by 13 per cent – significantly faster than non-STEM jobs.
We need to find ways to reverse the decline in the overall performance of Australia’s children in maths and science. We also need more young people choosing science, engineering, digital and maths subjects at school, and then at university or in vocational education.
One part of the answer is greater visibility of science careers. The next generation of researchers can’t venture down a career path they don’t know exists.
The opportunities for science and technology are endless. From the oceans we swim in, to the computers we rely on, science helps us understand every aspect of our world. It’s the very basis of everything we do.
Take for example, the work of Professor Trevor McDougall, whose research in the thermodynamics of seawater has transformed the field of oceanography. Professor’s McDougall’s work was critical to understanding the impact that global warming is having on the world’s oceans.
Or Associate Professor Brett Hallam, whose innovative work with improved solar panels and cells is keeping Australian homes powered more efficiently and reliably.
Or Adjunct Professor Alison Todd and Dr Elisa Mokany, who are transforming the way we diagnose cancer patients, leading to better informed treatment.
The work of each of these scientists is nothing short of inspirational. Australia, and the worl, wouldn’t be the same without their contributions. It’s why they were recognised at the 2022 Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science, which are an opportunity to celebrate and showcase the extraordinary achievements of Australia’s scientists and innovators.
The prizes are also a chance to acknowledge the inspirational teachers who show young people it’s possible to innovate and create – such as the inspiring work of Mr George Pantazis, who uses two-way learning to empower his students to share their First Nations knowledge and culture to Australia and the rest of the world.
There are many other scientists, innovators and teachers whose contributions are just as significant, and with nominations open now for the 2023 Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science, I urge anyone who knows a brilliant scientist, innovator or science, technology or maths teacher to nominate them before submissions close on 9 February 2022.
Do you know a scientist, innovator or teacher making a difference? Nominate them for the 2023 Prime Minister's Prizes for Science before Thursday 9 February 2023 at: business.gov.au/scienceprizes or business.gov.au/scienceteachingprizes.