24 October 2018
Mr ALEXANDER (Bennelong) (19:53): I rise to address the House about a very important topic—one that I believe holds the key to our growth and prosperity as a nation—that is, science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, as it is more popularly known. STEM has received a great deal of attention in recent years, and rightly so. STEM affects almost every aspect of our lives, whether it is the food we eat, the clothes we wear, how we get to work or how we relax. STEM is indispensable to all these facets of our lives and many others. For our economy, STEM is the engine that will power our growth into the future. It is central to so many of the growing sectors of our community such as health, education, finance, mining and manufacturing. With this in mind, it should be clear to see why training in STEM must be an important pillar of our education system. All too often, people hear the term ‘STEM’ and think of it only as coding or technology. This is only partly true. As its core, STEM is a way of thinking. It’s about how to critically analyse a problem and create solutions to that problem. It fosters critical thinking, lateral thinking and problem solving, irrespective of which aspect of STEM you study.
I would like to highlight the work of one particular organisation, Re-Engineering Australia, and their wonderful founder, the chairman, Dr Michael Myers OAM, for promoting STEM in schools. Re-Engineering Australia was founded in 1998 with a focus on encouraging students’ interest and understanding of STEM careers through hands-on, applied learning programs. These programs, in turn, foster technical understanding of STEM subjects and employability skills, such as teamwork, collaboration, problem-solving, self-promotion and public speaking. Since 1998, more than three million students have been exposed to one or more Re-Engineering Australia programs. Over 35,000 young Australians are directly mentored each year.
Quite recently, we hosted the Bennelong Schools’ STEM Challenge in conjunction with Re-Engineering Australia and our friends at Medtronic. It was a stunning success and featured dozens of schoolchildren using 3D software to design medical centres for the surface of Mars. It was an excellent opportunity for schoolchildren—many of whom were only in years 5 or 6—to show off their extraordinary talent of problem-solving and teamwork. We greatly look forward to hosting a new challenge next year and involving even more schools. Special thanks go to Dr Myers for his indispensable assistance and the whole team at Medtronic. Without them, the event could not have occurred.
Despite shining examples of STEM in schools such as this, there remains a great deal of work to be done to ensure our younger generations are being given sufficient instruction in the STEM disciplines. Evidence from OECD indicators suggests that Australian primary school children spend an average of only seven per cent of their time on science. This is far too low. However, it can only be rectified by introducing more STEM-qualified teachers into early learning in our education system and prioritising STEM teaching in curriculums.
I have every faith this government is up to the task of equipping our school systems to teach STEM. Already, the federal government has created a $1.1 billion National Innovation and Science Agenda, which includes $64 million to fund early learning and school STEM initiatives. In addition, the government has launched Digital Literacy School Grants, Digital Technologies Massively Open Online Courses and the Principals as STEM Leaders research project. These demonstrate that this government cares deeply about the role of STEM in our education system and is committed to expanding it. I wish them every success because, when STEM succeeds in our schools, Australia will succeed.