A STEM takeover?


Photo by Kate Purnell

Kate Purnell, Reporter

Mark McGowan’s State Government recently released a Key Performance Indicator (KPI) stating that by 2024 Labor aims to have at least 85% of year 12 students studying two or more STEM subjects. STEM is an acronym referring to science, technology, engineering and maths.

The WA Department of Education supports the approach. A section of the department’s website details in depth, the benefits and successes achieved by studying STEM.

However, what you are unable to find in the State Government’s KPIs or the Department’s approaches, is equal encouragement for students to study Arts and Humanities.

Lecturer for the School of Arts and Humanities at Edith Cowan University, Dr Kay Hearn said skills obtained through studying arts and humanities are “fundamental to everybody and vital to democracy”.

The more obvious stated skills developed through studying STEM are scientific, mathematical and technical, which are unique to STEM subjects.

Although the State Department of Education lists a range of transferable skills said to be adopted through studying STEM subjects which are “essential to student’s employability”, featured below:

According to Dr Hearn, all the above skills are attained through the study of arts and humanities too.

Adding that in cases of critical thinking, creativity and communication students develop a “stronger” skill set through the arts and humanities in comparison to STEM.

A group of male and female year 12 students from three different WA schools each studying physics, chemistry and specialist mathematics said that they haven’t attained higher level skills in creativity, team work and communication through these subjects.

One male student from the group said his physics and chemistry classes only have one and a half weeks of practical learning throughout the entire academic year.

In a promotional STEM video featured on the Department’s website, Head of Mathematics at Newton Moore Senior High School, Ashley Stewart said “you will need [STEM] skills to be successful.”

Whether Stewart is referring to the unique scientific, mathematical and technical skills, the transferable employability skills or a combination of the two is unclear. Nevertheless each interpretation raises a degree of concern.

If Stewart’s proclamation is limited to the unique STEM skill set, it undermines the study of arts and humanities by proposing a narrow path to success only achieved through scientific, mathematical and technical development.

In continuation, if Stewart is referring to the transferable employability skills it suggests STEM is the only way to achieve that skill set, and according to Hearn that is simply untrue.

The WA Liberal Party’s education policy tells a similar story to Labor’s. The multimillion dollar academic extension programs which include the gifted and talented program, are all aimed at STEM subjects and are to be funded at multiple schools across the state.

Jocasta Sibbel, the spokesperson for the WA Greens education research officer, said the party currently don’t have specific targets in their education policy for STEM or arts and humanities.

According to Hearn, there should be encouragement for high school students to study the arts and humanities, including from the state government.

The importance of studying STEM subjects and pursuing career paths in the many fields attached is imperative, due to the advancements and discoveries which shape our world as well as the predicted job growth.

In Western Australia, over the next five years there is predicted to be a 14% increase in professional, scientific and technical jobs and a 20% increase in health care jobs, according to the Department of Education.

However, choosing to disregard and neglect the importance of the arts and humanities based on the above statistics undermines their potential and may discourage students from studying them.

“The humanities is about figuring out where we’ve been, where we are and where we are going,” said Hearn, they shape the workings of the world from a differing stand point.