STEM? Where’s the beef?

The acronym STEM is commonly used to reference a set of educational and occupational fields or domains related to science, but there is inconsistency in the definition of this set and debate about whether the four fields deserve special attention as a collective entity (Gonzalez & Kuenzi 2012). This approach lumps together many disparate disciplines on the assumption that their shared importance promotes technological innovation, competitiveness, and long-term national prosperity and security.Science occupations are high status and reward their incumbents with relatively high personal income and social prestige. It is hardly surprising to see wealthy schools promote their STEM-ness and for those in, or wanting to be in those schools to do likewise.

This implies that STEM education may be more universalistic than non-STEM education, in that a student’s achievement may be evaluated more objectively in a STEM subject than in a non-STEM subject. Thus, STEM infers more than just science. It suggests social mobility, allowing socially disadvantaged persons to succeed through objectively measured criteria accepted by STEM educators and scientists. Again non-STEM educators will find themselves marginalised and rebuffed for suggesting alternate views – or worse – asking for some evidence.

My exchanges with STEM-Tweeters this week left me scratching my head, as no one could point to a study on the impact of STEM in primary or secondary education in Australia, yet all seem convinced by the commercial marketing and claims of the Chief Scientist that we need to give Science more money and attention.

Schooling is apparatus which acts as social determinants and processes which affect educational attainment in general. When I ask what is driving so many teachers to get on the STEM wagon – ie agents of social determinants and processes which affect attainment of STEM education relative to non-STEM education – and why pro-STEM have assumed games are part of their domain – I get a raft of answers – none of which address the central issue – STEM education has narrowly focused on school-specific factors expected to affect participation and achievement in STEM education.

This is the same self-fulfilling rubbish that orbited EdTech – and still does.


Gonzalez HB, Kuenzi JJ. 2012. Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education: a primer. Congr. Res. Serv. 7-5700, Washington, DC.