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What’s the problem?
Students from a disadvantaged background have low participation rates in STEM and poor outcomes as adults. They are falling behind in STEM education:
- The average 15-year-old Australian from a low socio-economic background is 3 years behind their peers from a high socio-economic background in mathematics and science.
- Students are more likely to have negative perceptions of STEM disciplines.
- Students are less likely to aspire to STEM careers.
- Adults from low socio-economic backgrounds are underrepresented in the STEM workforce.
There are a range of challenges for students from low socio-economic areas:
- Students may have poorer mental health and wellbeing.
- Students may have less access to technologies.
- Students are more likely to rely on parents and / or local networks for career advice, which may be fragmented.
What strategies work?
Given these challenges, research suggests that best practice for engaging students from low socio-economic areas in STEM needs to:
- Design parental engagement techniques and tools.
- Ensure that initiatives recognise, respect and are tailored to the local context.
- Create dialogue around a shared vision and sense of purpose.
- Be supported by clear communication with consistent and manageable methods of evaluation.
- Support resilient and sustainable partnerships with local communities and the broader education system.
Want to know more?
- Optimising STEM industry - school partnerships: Inspiring Australia's new generation - Issues Paper, December 2017
- Encouraging interest in STEM subjects among low socio-economic Australian secondary students report sections 1 and 2 address the disparity in STEM participation and achievement between low SES and high SES students.
- Securing Australia’s Future STEM: Country Comparisons report page 8 discusses differences in STEM achievement between socio-economic groups.
- The importance of place in evaluation of STEM partnerships between Universities and Schools in rural, remote and regional Australia.
- Citizen Schools USA: A program that brings professionals (STEM professionals are an important priority) into disadvantaged schools for extra-curricular support. There is a mixture of support with school work and engagement-focused extra-curricular activities related to the professional’s field.
Case study: STEM Learning Hub
STEM Learning Hub is a partnership between Social Ventures Australia and Samsung to improve STEM education opportunities for students in low socio-economic status communities. STEM Learning Hub schools are supported with professional development for school leaders and STEM teaching strategies that cater to community needs. They also benefit from being part of the broader Bright Spots Schools Connection program, which supports exceptional school leaders in disadvantaged schools to improve student outcomes. The STEM Learning Hub aims to model best practice in STEM education so other schools can follow its example. In 2017, the STEM Learning Hub included 14 schools from NSW, Victoria and South Australia.