It is not all about STEM

18 April 2018

Weekly Column from the Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta

Last month, NSW Education Minister Rob Stokes suggested schools needed to avoid the over-promotion of STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) above other areas, cautioning against following education ‘fads’. The comments were controversial because they were at odds with other political figures who have touted STEM as the powerhouse of Australia’s economic future. The warning that we will not have the scientific and mathematical expertise has led to increased pressure on schools to not only focus intensely on STEM subjects but to find expert STEM teachers.

We have to be very careful that we don’t overreact to the STEM trend, otherwise we could be doing ourselves a disservice. Australian schools have always taught Maths, Science and Engineering and produced world renowned experts. STEM subjects are critically important to the future prosperity of the nation but so are other fields like history, literature, music and the performing arts.

I agree with the Education Minister that we should not privilege certain subjects above others. Too often, education ‘experts’ have dismissed creative and performing arts, and to a lesser degree the humanities, as less rigorous or easier than STEM subjects. Clearly, every learner needs to leave school numerate and with a sound level of scientific understanding. It’s important to provide opportunities for all students especially those interested or talented in STEM subjects. We do need great scientists, mathematicians, engineers and technology specialists. However, we also need to provide as many opportunities for students to learn languages, read literature, explore history and express themselves through creative and performing arts.

The best resource we have for our future is to be able learn from history and to build on it in ways that advance our communities (local and global). The way to ensure that Australia will have enough scientists, mathematicians, philosophers, musicians and artists is to empower teachers to create engaging and challenging learning environments where each student is encouraged to inquire, explore and imagine. Doesn’t inquiry, exploration and imagination lay at the heart of most scientific and artistic endeavours?

Greg Whitby AM

Executive Director of Schools – Diocese of Parramatta


Greg Whitby is the Executive Director of Schools - Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta
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