Don’t force it: elusive solutions to Australia’s STEM problem

While debate rages about how to improve STEM teaching and whether to make maths compulsory, a report argues Australia should resist the siren call of Asia’s rigid education systems — despite the high scores.

While some advocate emulating Asian education systems’ focus on rote learning to make up for Australia’s deficit in science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills, known collectively as STEM, a report shows that Asian countries are moving away from such approaches.

The study, authored by Mitchell Institute Professorial Fellow Yong Zhao, argues that despite scoring highly compared to international rivals, Shanghai, Singapore, Hong Kong and Korea are reforming their education systems to address a shortage of “twenty-first century skills” such as creativity, communication, collaboration, and higher order thinking skills.

This comes as the states and Commonwealth argue over whether mathematics should be made compulsory for all students until year 12, with federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne pushing the mandatory case and the Labor governments of Victoria, Queensland and South Australia resisting.

Professor Zhao warns that making education more rigid will not teach students the skills they need for the future:

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