What do STEM education initiatives try to achieve?

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In this section you will learn how:

  • STEM education initiatives can increase excitement and engagement about STEM
  • STEM education initiatives can support improved achievement in both knowledge and skills
  • STEM education initiatives support equity and equality, excellence or both

STEM education initiatives aim to improve outcomes for students. To improve STEM student outcomes in Australia we need to do two things:

  1. Get students more excited about and interested in STEM education at school. This forms part of the broad concept of student engagement.
  2. Improve students’ STEM knowledge and skills. This forms part of the broad concept of student achievement.

There is a clear relationship between engagement and achievement. A student needs to be interested and engaged in STEM to learn more about STEM. And if a student is learning about STEM, they are likely to be engaged.  Many factors can influence student engagement and achievement.

For further reading on high impact teaching practices, visit the Evidence for Learning resources website.


STEM education initiatives can increase excitement about and engagement in STEM

Student attitudes and views about STEM influence their engagement in STEM education

Positive student attitudes are critical to engaging them in STEM education. Engagement is about inspiring and exciting students about the possibilities of STEM — for example, saving lives or making new discoveries.

Many STEM education initiatives try to improve student attitudes towards STEM education. These initiatives reflect on questions such as:

  • Do students see value in STEM learning?
  • Are students engaged and attentive during STEM classes and activities?
  • Do students enjoy STEM?
  • Are students inspired and excited by STEM career opportunities?
  • Do students see themselves in a STEM career?

Student engagement in STEM affects their choices about STEM participation in, and after, school

Student STEM engagement is often reflected in the choices they make whether to stay in STEM education. More and more students are choosing to opt out of STEM subjects when given the choice in secondary school. STEM education initiatives try to change the pattern of student choices, keeping students actively enrolled in STEM subjects during school and beyond (in further education or career pathways).

Read the continuing decline of science and mathematics enrolments in Australian high schools article.

STEM education initiatives can also support improved education achievement

STEM education initiatives can also focus on achievement. This can mean academic achievement, broader life skills, or both.

Increasing academic achievement is an important focus of STEM education

STEM academic achievement generally means how students are performing in a certain STEM subject, for example, science or maths test scores. But there is more to academic achievement than test scores. It also includes increasing student knowledge, for example, by extending an understanding of subject matter / content, and how it can be applied to solve real world problems.

STEM education also contributes to broader life skills development

There are many critical life skills that students need during and after their time at school that STEM education can offer. These include 21st century skills e.g. problem-solving, teamwork, collaboration, but also vocational skills that might need to be applied in further education/careers.

Teacher professional development and STEM objectives

Professional development is important, and crucial to increasing student STEM outcomes. But in this Toolkit, we don’t isolate this as a standalone objective because we see teacher professional development as a key strategy to increase student outcomes, rather than the ultimate goal.

STEM education initiatives can aim to support equity, excellence or both

STEM education initiatives can focus on:

  • Equity. This means focusing on students who might be disadvantaged or underachieving — for example, girls, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, students from regional and remote areas, and students from low socio-economic backgrounds. These kinds of initiatives often aim to enable or encourage participation by students who are under-represented in STEM.
  • Excellence.  This kind of initiative might focus on inspiring all students to lift their achievement in STEM, or helping high-achieving students to extend their performance. This might be across all high-performing students or a certain group.  
  • A combination of equity and excellence. This means focusing on everyone at once and trying to meet their different needs at the same time.

There is no right or wrong answer for whether a STEM education initiative should support equity or excellence, and both can lead to increases in engagement and achievement. But it is useful to be clear about whether objectives are about equity or excellence, especially when developing or evaluating a STEM initiative.

Want to know more?

Research Reports