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Shortages in SMET fields: Not just for Americans

November 12, 2008, 8:36 am

The Australians are also facing critical shortages of students choosing to study science, math, engineering, and technology (SMET) fields:

“It is no exaggeration to say that the relative decline in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics capability and literacy of South Australian school students is a very serious situation that requires decisive remedial action by the government,” said Engineers Australia state president Bill Filmer.

“There is an urgent need for reprioritisation in schools, staffing and curricula to overcome this problem to enable South Australia to be more competitive in the knowledge-based economy.”

The report also identified the lack of training in science given to primary school teachers as a key issue and questioned their commitment to teaching science. [Emphasis added]

As to that last sentence above, insofar as I can understand the teacher education curriculum in Australia from a little bit of Googling, the curriculum for primary teachers does seem awfully lightweight on the math and science end. The curriculum at the University of South Australia has students take a three-course sequence in “Studies in Science, Mathematics, and Society and Environment Education”, and the course descriptions go like this:

[For the first course] This course engages students with constructivist perspectives of student learning; social constructivist pedagogies including interactive approaches to teaching; thinking and working mathematically scientifically, environmentally and socially from socially inclusive and critical perspectives; planning for learning in mathematics, science and society and environment; key concepts embedded in sorting and classifying, pattern, number, living things, interdependence and ecologically sustainable components of Years 3 to 9 curriculum.

[Second course] This course engages students with constructivist perspectives of student learning and focuses on interactive approaches to teaching and student questions; thinking and working mathematically, scientifically, socially and environmentally from socially inclusive and critical perspectives; planning for learning in Mathematics, Science and SOSE; student centred inquiry; equity (fair trade) governance (political, social and economic systems); key concepts embedded in spatial sense and geometric reasoning, energy systems, matter and fair tests, personal footprints, democratic participation and poverty as aspects of the Years 3 – 9 curriculum.

[Third course] This course engages students with constructivist perspectives of student learning and focuses on interactive approaches to teaching and student questions; thinking and working mathematically, scientifically, socially and environmentally from socially inclusive and critical perspectives; planning for learning in Mathematics, Science and SOSE; student centred inquiry; the SOSE value of social justice and equity through refugees and Indigenous Australians; key concepts embedded in measurement, earth systems (soils and weather), plant and animal relationships as aspects of the Years 3 – 9 curriculum.

Like I said, it seems light on the actual science and math content, but the students will certain get lots of social justice issues and a bias towards constructivism as the religion pedagogy of choice. Perhaps I don’t understand Australian culture as I should, but if I were a student being taught by someone thoroughly drilled in this kind of thing, I probably wouldn’t like math or science either. And if I were a teacher who wanted to teach math and science because, well, I really liked math and science, I would be a little put off by the back seat that the actual disciplines take to all this constructivism and social justice stuff.

It would be interesting to take the countries who are having these kinds of problems in one column, and the countries that are eating our lunch in SMET fields in the other column, and compare how science and math teachers are trained in each column.

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