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What's the problem?
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students have low STEM engagement and poor STEM outcomes beyond school in work or education.
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students perform worse in STEM education than their non-aboriginal peers. For example, 68% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students scored below the international standard in Year 8, compared with 34% of non- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. Science results were similar.
- Gaps in STEM achievement have remained steady over the past 20 years.
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students are less likely to express interest in a STEM-related career.
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students often rely on parents and / or local communities for career advice, which may be fragmented.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students represent a very small proportion of STEM enrolments in tertiary education, especially in natural and physical sciences, management and commerce, architecture and building, IT and engineering. See the image below for more detail.
Source: Australian Government Department of Education, Skills and Employment, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Higher Education Advisory Council (ATSIHEAC) Background Paper: Indigenous Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).
What strategies work?
The Australian Council of Learned Academies compared international experiences of Indigenous students in STEM education, and found common themes in effective practices:
- Developing culturally responsive curriculum and teaching approaches.
- Including specific attention to the learning needs of Indigenous students.
- Integrating Indigenous knowledge.
- Assessment involving culturally valid ways of communication.
- Developing community outreach.
- Providing real-life pathways to a job
- Design parental engagement techniques and tools.
Vocational education and training (VET) has an important role in improving STEM education and career outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. VET can provide a pathway to employment, a career, re-employment or higher education. It is also an opportunity to engage with the broader community.
Want to know more?
- TIMSS 2015: A first look at Australia's results
- An Integrated Analysis of School Students’ Aspirations for STEM Careers
- Vocational education, Indigenous students and the choice of pathways
Below are examples of STEM education initiatives for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students:
- CSIRO Indigenous STEM Education Project: A suite of 6 programs designed to increase STEM participation among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. It includes a summer school, an awards program and in-school programs for schools in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in primarily non- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
- First Monitoring and Evaluation Report: Examines the implementation of the Indigenous STEM Education Project.
Case study: CSIRO Aboriginal Summer School for Excellence in Technology and Science
Aboriginal Summer School for Excellence in Technology and Science is a nine-day residential program for high-achieving Indigenous Year 10 students. The program is funded by the BHP Billiton Foundation and managed by CSIRO. Each summer school has a cultural patron who works with students to explore cultural identity and Indigenous knowledge. Scientists share their research and discuss study and career possibilities with students. Students work on group research projects and present their findings at the closing ceremony. In 2016-17, 105 students participated in summer school programs in Adelaide, Newcastle and Townsville. While too soon to measure achievement outcomes, an early evaluation found strong anecdotal evidence of improvements in student confidence, aspiration and knowledge of STEM career pathways.