John Curtin College of the Arts placing importance on STEM subjects

John Curtin's Year Seven building. Photo: JCY Architects
John Curtin's Year Seven building. Photo: JCY Architects

PERTH high schools are placing a growing importance on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) as they look to lead Australia up the international rankings.

According to the most recent Organisation for Economic Development’s (OECD) Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results, which tests 15 year olds around the world in reading, science and maths every three years, Australia has dropped in global rankings between 2003 and 2012 from fifth to 17th in maths and from fourth to eighth in science.

Despite being a specialist arts school, Fremantle’s John Curtin College of the Arts is leading the way in improving STEM education, named a finalist in the 2016 Governor’s School STEM awards after taking out last year’s title.

John Curtin mathematics teacher Donna Buckley said the school nurtured the future leaders in the ideas boom though enjoyable opportunities like coding, chess and ‘roots and shoots’ clubs, and talent quests and competitions on top of the regular curriculum.

“A STEM education is critical to being employable and a part of the digital age,” she said.

“The jobs of tomorrow do not exist today, Australia can no longer rely on its natural resources to sustain its economy and STEM driven economies such as Singapore are thriving.”

Myles Draper, the principal of Fremantle’s new high school opening in 2018, said they too would be placing a high importance on a STEM education.

“As one of nine schools across the state offering a Gifted and Talented Secondary Selective Entrance Academic Program, our students will have access to specialist teachers, leadership programs and university extension opportunities for example, which will all focus on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics),” he said.

“With professional careers in health care set to increase by 20 per cent, scientific and technical services by 14 per cent and other ICT professionals and engineers by 1.5 per cent in the next five years, the focus on STEM gives students a powerful toolkit they can use and apply to a broad range of careers that are important to the future economic sustainability of the Australian economy, providing them with the competitive edge for future employment.”

What the Universities Said

More emphasis on STEM studies in high school is having a noticeable impact on WA universities.

Murdoch University provost Andrew Taggart said many of the future’s jobs would be in STEM areas and that having skills in those areas would be paramount.

“Our new curriculum has several unique features with both breadth and research embedded in all courses,” he said.

“Arts students having the opportunity to do a ‘non-arts’ unit and science students having the opportunity to do a ‘non-science unit’ to ensure students have capabilities that go beyond their chosen major/discipline.

“We accept new students into science courses without pre-requisites so if the interest is there we then support their transition to understanding science through bridging programs in maths and science.”

At the University of Notre Dame, admissions and student services executive director Rommie Masarei said applications for their health and sciences programs were “well on the way to surpassing those for previous years”.

“The Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching (QILT) results this year have awarded Notre Dame as number one in WA for skills development in the sciences and number one in Australia for nursing and physiotherapy,” she said.

“The rise in applications for these areas in recent years is not surprising.”