UOW professor backs NSW government initiative to train more specialist STEM teachers

STEM PLAN: Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham. Picture: Adam McLean
STEM PLAN: Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham. Picture: Adam McLean

Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham wants to make sure that every high school in Australia has access to specialist science, technology and maths teachers in the next five to 10 years.

But NSW doesn’t want to wait that long, and has started the process of training specialist STEM teachers.

On Tuesday the state government announced changes to initial teacher-training requirements which will require NSW universities to train specialist teachers with a solid academic foundation in their specific discipline.

As a result physics, chemistry, biology and environment science teachers will now need to demonstrate a solid foundation in their core subjects and the HSC curriculum to progress to teaching in NSW schools.

Professor Sue Bennett from the University of Wollongong School of Education, said the government was just proposing to do more of what universities already do. 

UOW's Professor Sue Bennett

UOW's Professor Sue Bennett

“We already prepare teachers. Every university in Australia has programs that train specialist science teachers,” Prof Bennett said.

‘A university like ours is developing specialisations [with primary school teachers] in maths and then over time literacy and STEM.

“But this [plan] is targetting secondary school teachers, particularly in years 7 to 10.

“In NSW and Australia we do have a shortage, particularly of maths and science teachers. There has been a concern of how this problem has been addressed.

“I guess that is the piece of the puzzle they [government] are trying to solve.”

NSW Education Minister Rob Stokes said the new standards mean the community can continue to have confidence that NSW teachers have deep discipline knowledge.

He said by setting required learning during training, it will increase knowledge of core subjects, improving student engagement and success in HSC science courses.

“Minister Birmingham announced that he expects specialised STEM teachers in high schools within five to 10 years. I say we start today,” Mr Stokes said.

NSW is the only state to have minimum requirements in each subject to qualify as a teacher for each high school subject area.

“The notion that you can instruct, inform and inspire students without a firm understanding of the course content is crazy. Teachers should be masters before they educate apprentices,” Mr Stokes said.

Prof Bennett said she welcomed moves to boost the amount of specialist STEM teachers.

“What we are all trying to achieve is a really high quality teaching workplace. There is a lot of different initiatives to do that. This is one of those approaches,” she said.

Changes to high school minimum qualifications will begin in 2019. This year the first cohort of primary school graduate teachers obtained specialty in maths qualifications.