The Australian Government called for 'a renewed national focus on STEM in school education':
- citing growth in science, technology and healthcare at 1.5 times that of other jobs in recent years
- identifying STEM education as critical to Australia?s continued innovation and productivity.
The National STEM Education Strategy 2016 - 2026:
- aims to 'facilitate effective partnerships with tertiary education providers, business and industry'
- suggests that that STEM is mostly focused on teaching and learning, within schools, with industry as a key STEM education partner.
Building STEM capacity across the population is critical in helping to support innovation and productivity. STEM literacy is increasingly becoming part of the core capabilities that Australian employers seek.
The Education Council established the STEM Partnerships Forum chaired by Dr Alan Finkel AO, Chief Scientist of Australia.. The forum:
- comprised of 17 leaders from industry and the education sector,
- consulted widely to facilitate a more strategic approach to school-based partnerships with industry to develop student STEM engagement, aspiration, capability and attainment.
- report, Optimising STEM Industry-School Partnerships: Inspiring Australia's Next Generation recommends that schools engage with industry and other partners to develop and implement high quality, contemporary teaching practices in the science, technology and mathematics learning areas.
How industry can support a school and its STEM initiatives.
Supporting STEM initiatives
Industry can increase the authenticity of STEM initiatives within schools which leads to greater purpose and engagement for students when working to solve real-world problems.
Industry support for STEM education in schools can take a range of forms, including:
- presenting a real-world problem for students to solve as an authentic client
- mentoring students through the design thinking or engineering process as they work produce solutions to problems
- demonstrating authentic real-world skills, techniques and process that students can apply to their own project work
- providing an authentic feedback audience for student solutions as a client or a critical friend
- a source of STEM career case studies to help student contextualise their STEM work and its relevance to their own world
- being an aspiration role model, especially for underrepresented groups and areas of economic need
- providing worksite tours to improve students? knowledge and understanding of the world around them.
Industry engagement can add real value through authenticity to school-based STEM projects.
Engaging industry to support STEM
Industry engagement can add real value through authenticity to school-based STEM projects. It is important to be prepared with an engagement plan prior to approaching any industry partners:
- Ensure clarity of understanding of STEM. You may need to provide an overview of what STEM education is. Break down acronyms and educational jargon.
- Provide a brief elevator pitch for your STEM initiatives. Outline what your students will be doing and the educational goals for the project. Include the linkages between the industry and your initiatives. Present this as a flyer that can be left with industry representatives.
- Be clear about what you are asking them to do. Outline the role that they will play in your STEM initiatives and their time commitments.
- Do not ask for money or resources. This can put many off and undermine the educational purpose of your relationship.
- Promote the benefits of the relationship. These may include the opportunity to inspire potential future employees and receive public recognition of their support of your school.
- Start small. Invite potential participants to visit the school, meet informally with a class and with staff to gain a better understanding of what is happening in the school.
- Avoid cancellations at all costs. When Industry participants commit to supporting student learning, it costs them in time away from doing business.
A coordinated approach to potential industry participants is essential.
Duplication of efforts can give the impression of disorganisation and, in turn, be detrimental to establishing relationships.
- The person responsible for liaising must have a thorough knowledge of the:
- school's STEM initiatives
- form and purpose for industry participation
- intended outcomes of the collaboration.
- Who in your school is already in conversation with the community regarding support for school initiatives? Careers advisors, workplace learning coordinators and community liaison officers may already have knowledge of supportive individuals and organisation that can be leveraged. Staff with this experience and knowledge can facilitate introductions between industry and STEM teaching staff.
- Establish a plan of who will be approached in the community and by who. Keep a centralised record of the approaches made and the outcomes to ensure a well organised outward facing image and eliminate duplication.
- Take advantage of community members already connect with your school. This could take many forms, including parents, P&C members and past students. The benefit of this is that they are most likely to be already supportive of school initiatives and have an understanding of your students and school context.
There needs to be a range of organisational and management structures put in place to create an environment for an effective relationship.
Conditions to put in place
As with any initiative involving participants from outside of the department, first and foremost, ensure that all school policies and procedures are adhered to..
- Keep an open and clear communication channel open:
- ensure that industry participants are well informed of plans and their progress
- make contact prior to any event
- debrief after events to ensure that things ran smoothly for both sides of the relationship.
- All industry participants who are interacting with students have a current Working with Children Check (WWCC) and a record these are kept. Using your school's existing process for this is recommended.
- Work closely with industry participants when developing risk assessments for visits to places of business. Often this is already prepared and can be supplied to schools. Identify any personal protective equipment (PPE) required by visitors and who is responsible for supplying it.
- Clearly communicate your school's excursion policy to your industry participants when visiting their place of business
- identify who the excursion organiser is
- outline student supervision requirements and first aid processes including ambulance cover.
- Check the status of students' permission to publish. Cleary identify any students to industry participants who are not able to be photographed. Industry participants may have their own media release processes that will required completion ahead of time.