Calls mount for primary school teacher STEM focus - Education Matters Magazine
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Calls mount for primary school teacher STEM focus


There has been wide support throughout the education sector for future primary school teachers to have a focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and languages to strengthen teaching in those curriculum areas.

While there are still concerns on the growing demands placed on primary schools teachers across Australia and the lack of resources available, the move to recommend a specialisation for primary school teachers has garnered support.

The Federal Government’s Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group report Action Now: Classroom Ready Teachers released last month has been hailed a blueprint for “critical and lasting reform” of teacher education. Led by Professor Greg Craven, the Advisory Group was asked to make practical recommendations on improving teacher education programs to better prepare teachers with the skills they need for the classroom, with one of the main recommendations being a specialisation for primary school teachers with a focus on STEM and languages.

Stephen Dinham, National President of the Australian College of Educators and Chair of Teacher Education and Director of Learning and Teaching at the University of Melbourne, told Education Matters that there are two main reasons why the demands on the average primary school teacher had become untenable.

“One is the fact that the social demands on schools have become more and more and more and every time there’s a social problem, it gets given to schools to solve,” he said. “Also, there’s been great pressure on schools to list their results in the light of things like NAPLAN and so forth.

“Now, for primary teachers in particular, trying to be an expert in every area of the curriculum is quite problematic and we know, for example, two areas that people struggle with are maths and science, in some cases.

“At the moment, there are some teachers who go into primary teaching, and they haven’t done the higher levels of maths and science in high school,” he added. “They admit themselves they lack confidence and in some cases competence in teaching maths and science, so those are two areas where I think we can certainly do a degree of specialisation.”

Dinham also highlighted languages as another key area of specialisation for primary teachers that’s worth investing in, but stressed extra resources will be needed to make it a reality.

“Everybody talks about the need for students to learn another language but the trouble with this is we haven’t got a sufficient supply of language teachers,” he said.

“That’s another area where you can’t expect the average primary teacher to suddenly pick up another language and there’s some other areas too where we need some specialist support in schools.

“If there is a whole range of these social expectations that are being placed on schools, which gives you an overcrowded curriculum as a result, then we need paraprofessionals in there to work alongside teachers – we need more psychologists, we need more social workers, and we need more health experts – because you can’t expect teachers to do all of that.”

Glenn Finger, Professor of Education and Dean (Learning and Teaching) of the Arts, Education and Law Group at Queensland’s Griffith University echoed similar thoughts.

“In my view, the requirement for primary teachers to have a specialisation in mathematics, science and languages is a much needed approach,” he said. “This will certainly strengthen teaching in those curriculum areas and has been welcomed.

“I can see that these can be designed into four-year undergraduate primary teacher education programs, but will be challenging for two-year equivalent postgraduate initial teacher education programs, where there is less volume of learning available to develop both the breadth of curriculum and the depth. For example, some postgraduate students might not have completed undergraduate programs in mathematics, science or languages, so this will be challenging.”

Australian Education Union Federal President Correna Haythorpe said it’s important for teachers to have access to broad curriculum expertise, which is very important for a child’s development as a whole, but you can’t implement provisions around having specialist teachers in place without looking at the resources that will need to be in place to support that.


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