More STEM education won’t protect our students from robots

I have a tendency to ask people – who announce the importance of things – on Twitter how they actually know their amplification is factual or accurate. Twitter is both a useful channel for sharing and expanding the scholarship of teaching, and promoting utter rubbish based on marketing and bias.

STEM is one such topic I will ask for more information about. As an Art & Design teacher, I am occasionally symobolised in some of thhe rhetoric as STEAM – but by and large, art and design is seen an outside of STEM. Why? Simple, if STEM amplifiers believed Art & Design useful, they would be no STEM, just STEAM. So from the outset. STEM prompters isolate the arts and humanities from thier agenda.

STEM is an extension of the same ‘technological determisism’ that has powered EdTech for the last decade with ingrained bias, falacies, consumerism and bubblgum-theories. For example “Children who are taught to use Web2.0 will …” now spend 82% of their time (in Australia) streaming music, television, movies and YouTube user-generated content on between one and three devices. For the poorest, their phone will be their only access to the Internet.

The urgency to advance science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education is evident in the repeated calls by Australia’s Chief Scientist (e.g. 2014)

During this time, school has ‘maker spaces’ and ‘STEM labs’. The TAS (Technology and Applied Studies) workshop has rarely been visited or booked by other teachers. The Visual Arts and Performing Arts spaces have been pleading for funding. They still are. Apparenly STEM is something we don’t have – or can’t do, unless we have special conferences, hashtags and convert new rooms to this new unique demand – because if we don’t we will once again fail to prepare children for …. work. So we’re faced with a few issues here – first that education is a zero sum game that creates winners and losers and second that commercial agendas are not just allowed, but encouraged to create further disadvantage in schools and between them – tweet by tweet, based on scant evidence.

Historically, whenever jobs get destroyed by new technology, other jobs get created. Computer typesetting has put a lot of printers out of work. But we now have loads of new jobs enabled by computer typesetting like web designer and ebook publisher.

The message on Twitter is of course “studys show”. I don’t people bother to actually look or read these. If they did, they’d soon discover that any effort to create a ‘new’ focus or ‘reform’ an old on inside school system is extremely difficult and that buying new equipment doesn’t last – remember the ‘every child from year nine will have a laptop’ propoganda.

A study by Oxford University said the jobs of the future are in robotics. All you have to do is repeat this to become a ‘celebrity teacher’ who shows amazing insight. What rubbish. Since when did “I have a pineapple, I have a pen” become scholarship.=

Toby Walsh is Professor, Research Group Leader, Optimisation Research Group at NICTA.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

There are several arguments for why we do need to invest more in STEM education.

First, it leads to some of the safest jobs. Second, STEM is likely to help grow the economy. Third, STEM will drive innovation and productivity, both of which are desperately needed by Australia to compete in the 21st century. And as a person working in STEM education, I agree with these arguments, and would welcome more focus on STEM.

However, there are also arguments that we need to invest more in the humanities.

First, STEM needs people people: interface designers; creative types, etc. It’s not just geeks that are needed in the internet and smartphone enabled future of tomorrow.

Second, STEM isn’t for everyone, and there are many even safer jobs beyond STEM.

Third, if robots are going to reduce how much we work, the humanities will help us fill time that we are not working in constructive ways.

Wouldn’t that be great? If the 21st century became famous for an explosion in great works of art, paintings that changed the way we see the world, symphonies that make us weep, and plays that touch the soul? Robots might one day be able to help make such art, too.

At the civic level, STEM is creating further ‘institutional grouping’ and competition between schools and universities for funding and attention. Rather than ‘future proofing’ society, the public promotion of STEM is dangerously premature.

I argue Students’ conceptions of how they initiate, plan, implement and monitor self-regulated learning (SRL) strategies have practical implications for teaching and learning and that the new ‘digital technologies’ syllabus (not in use) remains a primary focus for schools in the near future, but is already undermined by reports of declining literacies in society – including transmedia literacies, and vanishing system-provided infrastructure (laptops, learning management systems, support, maintenance). There are people (often used to justify STEM) that have been working on this for decades.

If it was going to be EASY to do STEM – and if all of education should be driven by what the Chief Scientist thinks … I still rebel againt the Twitter simplicity of these echos.

To illustrate, pedagogical knowledge practices may include the planning of lessons and preparation of resources that target students’ conceptual development in the STEM areas. Apart from scheduling and timetabling lessons, planning also needs to incorporate teaching strategies, classroom management, problem solving by the teacher with reflection-in-action implementation and assessment strategies.

So when I’m told there are Australian researchers and Australian research that is showing we need moar STEM – I simply don’t see it in the literature.

I went to a recent STEM showcase, where “planning”  meant the teacher devising a student booklet as a resource for students to understand the tasks required of them for designing, constructing, and testing a medical mission kit. The mathematics and science concepts were embedded in the planned resources to aid students’ understandings of the engineering activity.

STEM education is a relatively new field for primary and secondary education in Australia and elsewhere, which warrants substantial investment into research on how STEM education can elicit and verify student outcomes. To me, proclaiming yet another ‘shift’ is needed, or worse ‘happening’ has no merit without also understanding ‘how’ this will be delivered will over-come the longstanding pedagogical issues in using all forms of technology.