It is time to change the education system before it destroys the innovative capacity of our children says Dr Michael Myers OAM, President of Engineers Australia Sydney.
As recently highlighted by our Prime Minister it is now accepted that a transformational focus on Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM) education is critical to developing the innovative capacity of our nation. But with every transformation, the devil is in the detail.
Industry is crying out for an education system which develops soft employability skills including teamwork, collaboration, communication, presentation, innovation and problem solving. But none of these are currently measurable components of the education process.
Education in Australia has become fixated on students achieving the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) which is the primary criterion for entry into most undergraduate and university programs in Australia. This has created an elitist, structured and bureaucratic educational environment that is killing the innovative capacity we seek to build in our children.
A focus on an ATAR, by definition, rules out any level of failure as being acceptable. It has our students only doing what will get them the best ATAR. It is teaching our students to take the easy road (to play the system). It squashes a willingness to bite off more than one can chew and to chew like crazy…and to possibly fail … key indicators of innovation at work. If we are to promote innovation we must re-evaluate and possibly devalue the dependence on the ATAR score.
We need our children back loving science, technology, engineering & maths because it interests them and it doesn't matter if they don't get the highest mark. Innovation is built on people willing to push the boundaries, to try different approaches and to not be scared of making a mistake. As our Prime Minister highlighted, we need more Australians to be ready to just have a go and try. However, to encourage a ‘have a go mentality’ we must as a nation learn to accept failure. Innovation is about trying something and accepting failure as a positive outcome from which we can re-evaluate our strategies and try again.
The education system should be focused on generating motivated children willing to have a go at the hard stuff who are not scared of making a mistake. We need children with a passion for creativity and a passion for the careers they choose and the education system at all levels should be an environment that incubates this passion. We should thus change the way we measure the performance of our education system, away from a fictitious score developed half way through the process, to a measure of the quality of the employability skills of the students coming out of that system.
Despite our national foibles I see a bright future for our nation and if we can continue to engage more students into STEM careers, we as a nation, will be able to take on more of those national building “Snowy Mountains” type projects as we journey to secure the future of all Australians.