Thursday, May 7, 2015

Stumped by STEM? It’s not the end of the world

Two news items caught my eye this week: Six Western Australian Institutions have signed up to promote science though the national Inspiring Australia initiative. The aim is to turn school students towards science, technology, engineering and mathematics – the so-called STEM subjects.

Parliamentary Secretary for Industry and Science, Karen Andrews proclaimed the move to be part of the Australian Government’s vision for a “science-literate knowledge nation”.

 Also in Western Australia there was the announcement of a new award to recognise principals who are developing their schools’ science and maths education programs.

Nothing wrong with that, I hear you say. Australia, and indeed the world, needs more scientists, mathematicians and engineers, not to mention technicians to feed the every-burgeoning ICT industries.

 Yes and no. In Australia the push for more young people to embrace this area of education has taken on the trappings of a religious crusade — a crusade led by the Federal Minister for Industry and Science, Ian Macfarlane who seldom misses an chance to decry the fact that such a small percentage of Australian students study STEM subjects at senior secondary and tertiary levels.

There is a need to present STEM in its most attractive forms to encourage young people with an aptitude for the subjects to develop their learning. No-one with talent should be turned away because they think of it as uncool or too dry.

But allowances should also be made for those whose brains are not wired that way and who would prefer to shine in other areas.

As a child, I was a victim of a father who believed passionately that success in life depended on a thorough knowledge of English and maths.

For me there was no problem with English, but mathematics beyond long-division was a mystery. I soldiered on because I had a parent who believed that my good marks in history, geography and religious knowledge (yes it was a long time ago) counted for nothing if I could not get at least a pass in maths.

Eventually I found out for myself that the world need not revolve around logarithms and calculus and found a profession where the only arithmetic I needed was to work out my weekly expense sheet (and anyway pocket calculators had been invented by then).

So my advice to any young person under siege from the STEM crusaders is by all means give it a go, but if it’s not for you don’t waste a moment. There will always be others who are better at it, so leave them to it.

Find where your real interests and abilities lie and don’t let anyone deflect you from them. It’s your best chance of realising your dreams.  


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