CSIRO targets underrepresented in school STEM skills push

Joseph Brookes
Senior Reporter

The CSIRO on Wednesday launched a new STEM education program for underrepresented year five to 10 students in a bid to increase and diversify the talent pipeline.

The five year, multi-million dollar program will see teachers trained, industry experts in classrooms and excursions to workplaces, as well as an innovative incentive for students.

Backed by BHP’s philanthropic arm, the science agency says its STEM Together program will highlight to students the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, encouraging them to build skills in problem solving and critical thinking.

CSIRO chief Dr Larry Marshall last year said turning around the decline in young students’ STEM skills needed to be a national mission.

Eden Public School students maximise light from solar powered-lights as part of CSIRO’s STEM Together Program. Image: CSIRO

The new program aims to boost representation for student groups that have traditionally had lower participation rates in STEM, including students from regional areas, girls, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and those from less advantaged areas.

Research has shown a 15-year-old from a lower advantage background in Australia is three years behind their peers from high socio-economic backgrounds in maths and science, while regional students are also typically behind inner city counterparts in mathematics.

Only half a per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders hold a STEM degree compared to five per cent of the non-Indigenous population. Women make up only 36 per cent of STEM university enrolments.

STEM diversity has been a persistent challenge in Australia despite a series of government programs targeting change for years. Last year a review of the delivery, effectiveness and impact of the existing programs was launched.

Draft recommendations will be released for consultation by July for final recommendations by October.

CSIRO chief executive Dr Larry Marshall last year told InnovationAus.com young students were turning away from STEM education, leaving the nation ill-equipped for a global innovation race.

The CSIRO boss said correcting it needed to be a national mission.

The CSIRO’s STEM Together program announced on Wednesday will also target teachers with development sessions to build confidence in the delivery of STEM skills, through its STEM Together stream.

The stream also includes student experiences based on ‘real-world’ STEM like visits by industry professionals and tours to workplaces.

“STEM Together will upskill teachers so that they are confident in teaching STEM. We’ll show students what STEM is like in real life, and we’ll reward their interest in STEM with prizes tailored specifically to them,” CSIRO Education and Outreach director Ruth Carr said.

The program’s ‘Future Shapers’ initiative will allow students to nominate potential STEM related experiences like visiting a laboratory

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