STEM now:Why bother?

Year: 2017

Author: Osman, Ann

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The shift from predominantly manufacturing based economies to 'knowledge economies' in the 1990's focused on science, mathematics and technology education provided in schools, higher education and industry workplaces. Governments and business/industry wanted access to a suitably trained and skilled workforce that was growing contributing the 'knowledge economy' and continuing social and community prosperity. It is from within this environment that the acronym 'STEM' emerged. One approach to understanding the acronym and what it affords is to investigate if the emergence of STEM is in response to concerns about the curriculum offered and how knowledge, skills and processes from each of S, T, E and M are similar or different, are related or interconnected and offer opportunities for innovation, creativity and economic growth.

This qualitative study will investigate how and when the term 'STEM' entered the lexicon (academic, government and public) using narrative inquiry including document analysis. It will draw on my experiences in the education context as a school teacher, public servant and university tutor with expertise in curriculum reform, design and implementation and, policy development.

A pilot study was conducted as part of the ongoing study. This paper reports on the findings of the pilot study where document analysis was used to collect data to provide insights into as to why STEM has achieved a prominent and public profile in a relatively short period of time.

The document analysis undertaken was of key publications of prominent Australian researchers in the field of STEM and STEM Education. The initial themes that emerged were: improvement of student engagement in science and mathematics when the content is relevant to the learner, connecting knowledge and skills across science, technology, engineering and mathematics and developing a skilled, flexible and adaptive workforce.

The document analysis provides the foundation for the next stage of the ongoing study, interviews with other researchers to explore their thinking about STEM and STEM Education.