Topics: Specialised STEM teachers, Super Saturday by-elections
Deborah Knight: A major overhaul could be on the way for our schools, with plans for tougher requirements on teachers when it comes to maths and science. Education Minister Simon Birmingham joins us now.
Minister, there is a big focus on these STEM subjects, as they’re known. What are you announcing today?
Simon Birmingham: Well, good morning, Deb. Look, the STEM subjects are critical because science and technology are going to be such key drivers of our future economy and of the employment prospects for today’s students. And so what we want to do is make sure that across every high school in Australia, they have access to specialist science, technology, maths teachers. There are too many cases where too many teachers have been teaching outside of their scope, and while they do a fabulous job and the best they possibly can, students deserve biology specialists teaching biology, physics specialists teaching physics, maths specialists teaching maths, and that’s what we want to see occur.
Deborah Knight: And if this current system is not working, how is it impacting our kids?
Simon Birmingham: Well of course we know that children will be inspired best by individuals who have a great passion for the subject that they’re teaching, so this isn’t just about ensuring that knowledge and curriculum is imparted, it’s about building inspiration in children to stick with maths, to stick with sciences, because our data shows that over the last decade there’s been a steady decline in the proportion of students studying advanced or intermediate maths at the Year 12 level, and a decline in students studying the sciences as well. And that’s a really bad sign, which is why we’re committed to ensuring that primary school teachers are trained, in their university training, in a specialisation, and that we actually develop a proper national teaching workforce strategy to identify where we need more science teachers in what particular skill sets, and ensure that our universities respond by training those individuals.
Deborah Knight: We’re certainly seeing Australian standards lapsing compared to international students, but recruiting and training specialists at this level does take time. When should we expect to see this plan rolled out in classrooms?
Simon Birmingham: So, it’s not an overnight thing, which is why we’re already investing in better training, online access courses for teachers to up-skill their technology skills and the like that can really help with sciences, but I hope the states and territories will agree to sign on to a new school reform agreement this year that will include a commitment to developing the type of workforce strategy that allows us over the next couple of years to really then pinpoint where and how we need to train more science teachers, in what fields, so our kids get the subject specialists they deserve in the classroom.
Deborah Knight: Minister, just on a matter we’re edging ever close to: the Super Saturday of by-elections. The latest poll results out this morning, though, spell trouble for the Government, showing a really strong swing to Labor in several key states. You must be concerned?
Simon Birmingham: Oh look, as a Government, we’re focused on the issues. You know, over the last week I’ve been across four different states highlighting how our child care reforms are helping working Australian families by relieving the cost of child care, putting an average $1300 per child, per child, per annum-
Deborah Knight: [Interrupts] But are you worried that message isn’t getting through to voters?
Simon Birmingham: Well, I’m determined to make sure that we do explain to voters that they have a choice, and it’s a choice between a Turnbull Government that is balancing the books, delivering tax relief, supporting schools and child care to help Australians, or Bill Shorten Opposition, and Bill Shorten is promising more than $200 billion in extra taxes on people’s wages, businesses, savings, retirement - that’s something that Australians just can’t afford.
Deborah Knight: Alright. We’ll see how that message cuts through in just a few weeks’ time. Minister Simon Birmingham, thanks for your time this morning.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks so much.