Wesley College Melbourne Australia
Wesley College Melbourne

The importance of STEM at Wesley College

Posted 30 July 2018
STEM at Wesley

Encouraging  the study of the science, technology, engineering and maths disciplines has never been more important, for students and the world, as David Edwards, Head of Campus at St Kilda Road, explains.

Consider the last time you communicated, travelled or even ate or drank without the help of modern infrastructure. Chances are you’ve used a phone network or the internet some time today, and driven a car or caught a train, maybe taken a cab or Uber, and shopped for food – if you actually cooked instead of texting Uber Eats. You’ve probably emailed and browsed online, and maybe taken a photograph or listened to electronic music. Let’s face it, you’re even reading this article online right now. 

STEM all around us 

We live in a world that depends on science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). It’s the deep integration of the STEM disciplines that enables Siri and Google to direct us, Facebook to connect us, cars to avoid collisions and park themselves, logistics companies to move products from suppliers to retailers to us. STEM is all around us. 

Given our dependence on STEM, it’s important that our students understand the risks but also the opportunities of STEM in our rapidly changing world - think Facebook and the Cambridge Analytica data breach but also data to develop better programs and services; job losses but also productivity gains from artificial intelligence. It’s also important that our students have every opportunity to play an active role in a world that will continue to be driven by technology.

The importance of STEM in schools 

For years, governments, educators, business leaders and even Australia's Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel have been emphasising the importance of STEM in schools. Commonwealth and state budgets have allocated significant funding to STEM education initiatives. Former United States President Barack Obama in his 2016 State of the Union Address announced a plan to provide every student hands-on computer science and maths classes. British Prime Minister Theresa Mary May has promised additional funding to build maths teaching capacity and spread best practice, and improve the teaching of computing. Nevertheless, Australian, US and UK 15-year olds continue to fall behind their OECD counterparts in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). 

Australian results from the most recent cycle of PISA clearly show that, despite our investment, we continue to slide in performance outcomes compared with our OECD counterparts. As a nation, we should hardly be proud of ranking 10th in science, 12th in reading and 20th in mathematics out of 72 participating countries. As Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham observed in December 2016, ‘Given the wealth of our nation and scale of our investment, we should expect to be a clear education leader, not risk becoming a laggard.’ 

The importance of STEM integration within our teaching and learning cannot be understated. On a very practical front, by the end of 2018, 2.4 million STEM jobs are projected to go unfilled globally, according to the Smithsonian Science Education Center. For those who actually pursue a STEM discipline and career, women and ethnic minority groups remain severely under-represented. 

Globally, the impact of STEM is clear to see: four billion mobile phone users, an explosion in the creation of data, driverless cars, burgeoning applications of drones and robots, and a new commercial space race; at the same time, 1.2 billion people are without electricity, 870 million without adequate food and 780 million without access to clean water. At the same time, escalating energy consumption and its consequent global warming is changing ecosystems and environments. Clearly, the STEM disciplines are driving rapid change and have the potential to solve some of the world’s big problems. It’s vital, as a consequence, that we educate our students to survive and thrive in a rapidly changing and uncertain times.

STEM education to meet current and future needs 

At Wesley College, our focus is on developing the skills, concepts and knowledge that our students need now, and into the future. The inter-related STEM disciplines are a significant part of that. In our junior schools, our transdisciplinary approach to learning through the International Baccalaureate (IB) Primary Years Programme develops students’ mathematical and English literacy through natural inquiry. In our middle schools, the IB Middle Years Programme (MYP) provides a crucial learning continuum, with interdisciplinary study binding maths and science together. Technology permeates all courses. MYP Design, for example, enables students to develop and apply their engineering skills and concepts during their middle school journey. In our senior schools, we build on the foundations of junior and middle school through higher-level programs of study offered in our Victorian Certificate of Education, Vocational Education and Training, Senior Years Learning Framework and IB Diploma Programme pathways. 

STEM at Wesley

According to Dr Finkel, guest speaker at the 2018 Wesley College Samuel Alexander Lecture, Australia needs more students pursuing STEM subjects in Years 10 to 12 and enrolling in STEM-related courses at university. 

Our continuing STEM initiatives focus on providing learning opportunities for every Wesley student. The rate of change in the future will only get faster and the ability to respond to the challenges and opportunities such change will bring will be a fundamental requirement of all emerging leaders. For the Wesley student, STEM is not just about developing a toolkit that will lead to better job access; it’s about ensuring that every Wesley student is provided with opportunities that best prepare them for the now, next and later in their lives. 

Dr Alan Finkel will deliver the 2018 Wesley College Samuel Alexander Lecture, to be held in Adamson Hall at the St Kilda Road Campus on 13 August, 6–7.30 pm, speaking on transdisciplinary approaches to STEM in schools, policies that set minimum national requirements for what teachers learn, partnerships and other systems to connect school principals with industry leaders, and more vocational education and training subjects in schools.

Book to attend the 2018 Wesley College Samuel Alexander Lecture with Australia's Chief Scientist Alan Finkel. 

Top, Wesley College Glen Waverley Campus students designing, building, programming and testing LEGO Mindstorms robots; below, St Kilda Road Campus student explaining code.

David Edwards is Head of the St Kilda Road Campus of Wesley College.


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