Why is STEM important for your education career?

A STEM teacher educating his students in a classroom.
A STEM teacher educating his students in a classroom.

As the digital landscape continues to evolve rapidly, the significance of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education cannot be emphasised enough.

Increasingly, STEM is emerging as a crucial component to equip students for the future of work and give them a contemporary mindset for their everyday lives. From shaping innovative learning environments to driving forward the frontiers of technology and science, STEM lies at the heart of future-ready education.

Yet, research suggests that Australia is continuing to slip down the international ranks in STEM, with many Australian students dropping STEM subjects while being unaware of the potential of STEM for their future.

So what exactly is STEM and how can educators help students to embrace it?

Here, we’ll explore STEM’s vast potential in study and career pathways, its pivotal role in education strategies, and how educators can gain the expertise to shape the future of STEM.

What is STEM?

STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

The term refers to the grouping of these four subjects, but it also encompasses an overarching approach to teaching that builds students’ interest in STEM-related careers and fosters their inquiry and problem-solving skills.

By applying their knowledge of STEM, students can test ideas, take risks, discuss ideas and build real-world knowledge. This type of learning helps them to build key 21st century learning skills, including:

  • critical thinking
  • problem-solving
  • creativity
  • teamwork
  • independence
  • communication
  • ethical and intercultural understanding

What are STEM subjects in schools?

STEM covers numerous important learning areas in the Australian curriculum for both primary and secondary students. These include the full range of science subjects, numeracy and maths, digital technologies, engineering and design.

In addition, many schools use inquiry-based projects to teach a range of STEM subjects in a cross-disciplinary manner. Examples include designing a school sustainability centre, exploring solar power for robots, and designing and building racing vehicles – from go-karts to F1 racers.

These projects are often fun, engaging and inspiring for students, making STEM learning and career options exciting and intriguing for them.

What are STEM careers?

There is a wide range of STEM roles available, and this is expected to grow and develop into the future. These include:

  • Jobs falling directly under the STEM banner, including roles in research, academia, businesses and other organisations across the science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines.
  • Cross-disciplinary roles requiring a mix of technical, business and creative skills, including jobs in artificial intelligence (AI), tech startups and cybersecurity.
  • Non-traditional STEM careers in areas that are heavily reliant on STEM concepts and understandings, such as architecture, allied health and forensics.

Why is STEM important for today’s students?

STEM is important for study and career paths, but it also develops essential life skills. According to Australia’s National STEM School Education Strategy 2016-2026, STEM incorporates a cross-disciplinary approach that aims to build both interest in and skills for working and functioning across many different sectors, jobs and areas of life, both now and into the future.

Here are some key reasons why STEM is important for today’s students to prepare for tomorrow.

Relevance in the modern job market

Employer demand for graduates with STEM skills and knowledge is increasing, and it’s likely to continue to grow as job roles diversify. In fact, some predictions say that 75 per cent of new jobs will require qualifications or skills in areas of STEM in the future, and workers will spend twice as much time on tasks requiring critical thinking, science and maths as compared to now.

Opportunities for workers in STEM careers are on the rise, but employers are also increasingly looking for other transferable skills associated with STEM, such as problem solving, creativity, analysis and teamwork.

Skills shortages in many STEM occupations are already apparent. A 2022 report by the Tech Council of Australia (TCA) states that an additional 653,000 tech workers will be needed by 2030 to meet demand. The TCA report shows that vacancy rates in tech jobs are currently 60 per cent higher than the national average and are forecast to grow three times as quickly.

In engineering, the Professionals Australia union forecasts a shortage of 200,000 engineers by 2040, which will undermine important infrastructure projects and economic growth.

Foundational skills for 21st century learning

Even if students don’t pursue a career in STEM, studying STEM can help them develop real-world skills that can be applied throughout their lives.

For instance, STEM encourages students to explore and analyse, developing critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Students also exercise their creativity as they craft solutions to complex problems, as well as build collaboration and teamwork with fellow classmates to complete projects.

These are skills that are not only invaluable for future careers, but also for navigating a rapidly changing world.

Keeping up with technological advances in the workplace

According to the Australian Department of Education, continually evolving technological advances are having a major impact on the world of work and will continue to do so in the future. Workforces are racing to keep up with change as entire job sectors emerge or disappear faster than ever.

In today’s workplaces, disruptive technologies such as automation, e-commerce and AI provide new and better ways of operating for businesses, industries and consumers. In doing so, they are entirely altering how these systems function, transforming jobs and careers along the way – making some obsolete and creating other new ones.

In this rapidly evolving environment, a contemporary understanding of STEM is a bastion of hope in future-proofing today’s students for the careers of tomorrow.

Widespread use of technology in schools

Tech skills are not just important for the future - they are important now. International research shows that Australian school students are the third-biggest technology users among OECD countries. Over 75 per cent of our teachers frequently let students use digital devices for class work and projects compared to 53 per cent across other OECD nations.

What are the challenges for STEM education in Australia?

Education is key to building a pipeline of skilled and qualified STEM workers to support this critical aspect of Australia’s economy in the future. This must be emphasised throughout the entire educational journey, starting from early learning and continuing through primary, secondary and tertiary education.

Yet critical problems remain within this pipeline, including at the school level.

The school teaching crisis impacts STEM

Australia is currently experiencing a teacher shortage crisis, with a staggering 8,700 new educators needed in 2024 alone.

Yet, only 2,000 university students have placed education as their top preference this year, and 1,000-2,000 additional students list it as their second or third preference.

Evidence shows that this situation disproportionately affects STEM teaching.

Inequities in STEM

STEM skills shortages are exacerbated by gender and other forms of inequity, which also start at the school level. The federal government’s STEM Equity Monitor shows that in schools, girls’ confidence in STEM subjects is lower than boys’ and declines as they get older. Girls also constitute only a quarter of enrolments in year 12 information technology, physics and engineering classes nationwide.

These gender inequities are reflected upstream in STEM-related tertiary courses and workplaces. The Equity Monitor also shows that women comprise only 17 per cent of enrolments in vocational STEM courses and 37 per cent in university courses. In terms of STEM-qualified jobs, only 15 per cent are held by women.

In addition, students from disadvantaged backgrounds have low participation rates in STEM disciplines at all levels of education.

Student disengagement

Many Australian students also do not understand the career opportunities that STEM subjects can offer, meaning that many students don’t pursue these subjects.

For example, less than 10 per cent of students were pursuing a higher level of mathematics in 2020, and, in science scores, Australian students are performing almost a year below the level of their Australian peers studying a decade earlier.

How educators can help shape Australia’s future through STEM

Passionate, qualified and experienced STEM teachers in schools are a critical resource in building Australia’s future STEM workforce. Skilled STEM teachers are in increasingly high demand in Australian schools, in both classroom and leadership positions.

In the National STEM School Education Strategy 2016-2026, one of five areas earmarked for national action is increasing teacher capacity and the quality of STEM teaching. This requires a broad-based and accessible tertiary education system for STEM teachers.

Aside from having a teaching degree and being knowledgeable in STEM disciplines, STEM teachers should:

  • have skills in inquiry-based learning
  • be able to teach foundational skills
  • be informed of gender and cross-cultural awareness
  • have a deep understanding of STEM ways of thinking

They also need that spark of inspiration to get students excited about pursuing STEM opportunities in the future.

Why study STEM education with the University of Canberra?

A postgraduate qualification in STEM teaching can position you as a leader in this rapidly growing and exciting area of education.

Stand out with a specialised STEM degree

The University of Canberra (UC)’s online Master of Education (STEM) is a specialist qualification that builds on foundational STEM skills by providing an in-depth understanding of STEM concepts, applications and pedagogical frameworks.

Informed by evidence-based research from UC’s STEM Education Research Centre (SERC), the course focuses on STEM skills, principles and ways of thinking. It enables graduates to see teaching and learning through a STEM mindset, helping students think differently about how they can apply STEM to their context.

By combining dedicated STEM units with core study in educational research, inclusion and wellbeing, this qualification will give you the specialised skills and tools to maximise teaching outcomes and to provide powerful learning experiences for your students.

Leading careers in STEM teaching

The University of Canberra can offer you a specialised master’s degree that will position you at the forefront of the rapidly growing field of STEM education.

As well as teaching opportunities, graduates of the STEM specialisation can pursue in-demand roles such as:

  • Head of Department or Faculty (STEM)
  • Curriculum Coordinator or Specialist (STEM)
  • Education Assessment Specialist (STEM)
  • Assistant Principal
  • Executive Teacher (STEM)
  • Instructional Coach
  • Instructional Leader

Flexible and personalised learning

The 100% online Master of Education (STEM) offered by the University of Canberra is fully flexible with course content that you can study anytime, anywhere. It can be completed in as little as 16 months or extended to suit your needs.

Guidance from leading industry professionals and personalised support is available every step of the way to ensure success in your learning journey.

For those seeking a shorter STEM-specific qualification or a pathway into the master’s degree, the University of Canberra also offers the online Graduate Certificate in STEM Education.

Shape the future through STEM education

Explore the University of Canberra’s online STEM education programs and turn your experience into expertise.

To find out more about how you can specialise in STEM with the UC’s online Master of Education, visit our website or get in touch with one of our Student Enrolment Advisers on 1300 471 770.