The STEM and STEAM Debate

26 Mar 2018

Last week the NSW Education Minister opened a debate about STEM education. Conversation and debate is good for our society and it is refreshing to see curriculum debate on the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald. As others joined the conversation, I am sure many educational leaders were wondering whether this was anything more than debate for the sake of debate. At this point, the obvious has been missed – all NSW schools have mandatory syllabi that treat the study of Maths, Science and English equally. Students must study History, Geography and PDHPE until the end of Year 10, they must study Languages other than English, they must study technology and they must study a range of creative and performing arts subjects. Curriculum change at the HSC is not changing the balance of subjects a student must study. STEM has not replaced the teaching of Mathematics nor has it stopped schools teaching the Arts, and, as the Minister for Education has stated, “to preference STEM at the expense of the Arts is demonstrably ludicrous”. There simply is not the room nor desire to replace one with the other. Both STEM and humanities are important in careers. They should be a fundamental part of learning – and they are. STEM based subjects help students thrive across a range of career areas and are important to thriving in humanities. Only knowing STEM and not humanities will also limit careers. The imperative is to ensure students, when they leave school are equipped with skills to enter the next stage of their lives effectively, including possessing skills that will give them access to a changing local and global economic, cultural and social environment.  Common sense tells you that students will do this in a variety of ways and our responsibility as a school is to open their eyes to future possibilities, encourage them to strive to study broadly and deeply as global citizens and not to limit them to one way of thinking.