22nd November 2010

Many high school science programs lack real world relevance and the teachers to inspire students to help propel Australia's future development, said a Queensland University of Technology (QUT) academic.

Associate Professor Jim Watters, from QUT's School of Maths, Science and Technology Education, is calling for more industry professionals to be employed as high school teachers ahead of a conference next week (November 26-27).

The first International Conference of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) in Education will bring together educators from around the world to tackle the global shortage of STEM professionals.

Professor Watters said in many cases, high school science programs had lost touch with the real world of science.

"Students are smart enough to know science and maths play a role in their lives, but the science and maths being taught in schools is often irrelevant," he said.

Professor Watters, who is undertaking a study to follow industry professionals as they began careers in teaching, said these teachers brought invaluable experience to the classroom and were capable of inspiring students to enter STEM professions.

"Most are bringing their rich experience, enthusiasm and professional knowledge to the class rooms," he said.

"But not in all cases is their experience being appreciated. Sometimes these 'career-change' teachers are seen as a threat to the long-term teachers."

Professor Watters' preliminary data found school administrators were sceptical, wondering why these professionals would become teachers. However, concerns about professionals' ability to teach were well-founded since some had difficulty in relating to the needs of contemporary children and youth.

"Many career-change teachers are passionate about sharing their knowledge and passion for science and mathematics, but don't become proficient teachers overnight," he said.

"They need substantial teacher training at both pre-service level in universities and through quality school-based induction programs to understand contemporary students approaches to learning and priorities.

"Long-term teachers also need time and the opportunity to do sabbatical work in industry and increase their professional experience."

Professor Watters said Queensland was leading the way with specific programs to engage high school students, including developing innovative businesses that worked in with local industry.

He will be discussing some of these programs at the conference on November 27, which brings together educators from across Europe, Asia, Africa, the US and Middle East.

What: The First International Conference of STEM in Education
When: November 26-27
Where: Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane

Media contact: Rachael Wilson, QUT media officer, 07 3138 1150 or rachael.wilson@qut.edu.au.

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