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STEM and why it matters

There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about Australian education and STEM, with debate centring on Australian students’ skills in core subjects and how they’re showing definite signs of slipping.

It’s eliciting concern and consternation from industry experts and politicians alike.

But what does it even mean and why is STEM considered so important? Here’s a quick guide to STEM and why it matters, not just to students, but the nation as a whole.


The acronym STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, but it represents more than just these subjects in isolation.

Education academic Dr Linda Pfeiffer told the Sydney Morning Herald, STEM should be considered as a way of thinking: “STEM is about the skills required to learn science, technology and mathematics, and how engineering and design processes and principles are used to achieve an outcome”.

The Australian landscape

The major issue in Australia is that results in STEM subjects are in decline. This is compounded by the fact fewer students are choosing to undertake these subjects in their final years of schooling.

Statistics indicate students completing STEM subjects are at their lowest numbers in 20 years. Meanwhile two recent international assessments showed Australia’s ranking in Science and Mathematics was slipping.

These included the Programme of International Student Assessment (PISA) and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). It’s resulted in a major government push to bring Australia’s results and interest back up to par.

Why so important?

According to the Federal Government in the next decade 75 per cent of all jobs will depend on having skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, but that doesn’t mean everyone will “…become a scientist, technologist, engineer or mathematician”.

Instead, these foundational skills will be required for a multitude of modern day jobs, spanning all industries.

They continue: “Many jobs require basic STEM skills to problem solve, and understand and apply innovations. Having STEM skills can also offer pathways to a diverse range of occupations, particularly in emerging industries and the digital economy”.

Applications will range from running a small business, to the trades, and beyond, or as Australia’s Chief Scientist Alan Finkel told The Conversation in a discussion about mathematics results:

“Maths is not just the language of science and technology, but the foundation of commerce, the core of engineering, and the bread and butter of every trade from cooking to construction.

“How can we hold governments to account if journalists can’t interpret data and citizens can’t make sense of charts?”

Meanwhile specialist STEM areas are already experiencing a dearth of home grown talent, with the tech sector among the areas most greatly affected. And it’s a skills shortage that is only set to compound in the coming years.

The Australian Financial Review puts it plainly: “There simply isn’t enough tech talent to satisfy the demands of both corporate Australia and the growing technology start-up ecosystem”.

While only 3500 people graduated with an ICT-related degree last year, The Australian tips 100,000 new ICT will be created in the next three years.

“The impact of disruptive technologies is expected to drive further growth with demand for ICT workers tipped to reach over 700,000 in 2020,” they state.

And that’s not even touching the surface of the health professionals, doctors, architects, economists and scientists that will be need to ensure Australia remains the prosperous nation we have come to enjoy.

The final tutorial

Chalkwall has been assisting students of all ages build confidence, skills and ability in mathematics, science and literature for over 25 years. With the knowledge one size cannot fit all when it comes to learning, we tailor our services to the individual’s needs, providing learning strategies that work in the real world. You can learn more about our tutoring programs here, or contact us for further advice