Australia’s Chief Scientist announces new projects to help parents and teachers find relevant, evidence-based education practices.

Australia’s science capacity at schools has gone down compared to international levels, says Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel AO.

“The issue we have is we are putting a lot of money into the education system through many programs,” Dr Finkel told the Australian Financial Review’s Innovation Summit in Sydney.

“The trouble is we don’t have the evidence base to help us with focus.”

Dr Finkel says there are four pillars to education: the national curriculum, the sum total of extracurricular activities available to young people, teacher capability, and parents.

“The national curriculum is done quite well,” he says.

“Through my office we are looking at extracurricular activities, which range from good and excellent to average. But the problem is they are all disconnected, and parents and teachers find problems discovering what it relevant in their area.”

The Office of the Chief Scientist (OCS) are developing an electronic portal to efficiently provide that information to parents and teachers around STEM activities, Dr Finkel announced, with collaboration and funding from Microsoft, Telstra, the Commonwealth Bank, the BHP Billiton Foundation, AMSI, Engineers Australia and the Queensland Chief Scientist’s Office.

The OSC is also working on an aspiration program to encourage schools to develop their own metrics to reward progression in maths and sciences in particular, he says, and encourage teachers to use evidence-based education practices in developing these plans.

With regards to the fourth pillar, families, hundreds of thousands of parents need to engage in STEM, he says. “Huge numbers of children don’t get the benefits of engaged parents, and I think the best way to get to those parents is through schools.”

He also noted that companies could play a bigger role in universities in engaging students as to what the requirements of STEM-skilled graduates will be.

“Companies can help in so many ways and they do already. Talking to kids about careers, providing financial support to extracurricular activities.

“But it is also important to set expectations around science.”

Graduates need communication skills and leadership skills, he says. But it wasn’t just up to universities to foster these.

“I think universities should be creating job capable students but not job-ready students. There is a myth around company expectation that students must be ready. I think companies need to set the aspirations right around these capabilities.”

– Heather Catchpole