The federal government will spend $2 million attempting to turn Australia’s high school students into science nerds.
This is the opening paragraph of ninemsn’s article on the Australian Government’s new $2 million initiative to improve the participation of year 9 and 10 high school students in science, named STELR – The Science and Technology Education Leveraging Relevance program.
Although the journalist was probably attempting to be funny, his or her choice of phrase to “turn high school students into science nerds” perfectly sums up the anti-intellectual attitudes towards scientific pursuits in Australian society, and exposes the heart of the problem: image conscious high school students who want to be cool do not want to be labelled as “science nerds”, hence choose not to study science in years 11 and 12, and do not pursue scientific careers.
I praise the Government’s initiative as a very positive step. $2 million is far too little, but any step forward is a good one. I also praise the decision to target the year 9 and 10 age group as this age group is still young enough to be impressionable, are very conscience about their self image, yet are starting to consider their future after high school. If this program succeeds, it will allow sufficient time for these students to choose science electives for years 11 and 12.
I wish to suggest some further ways to enhance this initiative:
- Extra pay for teachers who hold masters degrees and doctorates
When I was in high school, some science teachers had science degrees, but many didn’t. Even those who did made few efforts to update their knowledge. I can’t blame them completely – there was no incentive or recognition for those teachers who went beyond the bare minimum required to do their job.
- Advertising and promotional material featuring handsome/beautiful scientists
Yes, they exist and I have met them. In fact, a female scientist I know who works in the pharmaceuticals industry has graced the covers of a woman’s fashion magazine.
The old and tired stereotypical nerd with horn-rimmed glasses and a speech impediment promoted on TV and in movies must be destroyed once and for all.
- The right slogan
Science must be promoted as an empowering field that gives a person understanding and control over the world – to save the world, or to make it better.
What are your thoughts?
In the recent Sydney Morning Herald article article Too Many Uni Students Cry Poor, economics editor Ross Gittins says “One group I’ve never had much sympathy for is self-pitying university students”.
I respect the old man, but he is really out of touch with the realities facing young people today. Are today’s Australian university students struggling more than students in previous decades? I say yes.
Degrees Are Worth Less Today
Contrary to what Ross Gittins says, having a degree these days does not even guarantee a job, let alone a high salary.
Tertiary qualifications are now the baseline
Decades ago, the Australian workforce had a vastly different composition – Many students left high school before before year 12 and without receiving their Higher School Certificate (HSC). There was a lot of unskilled work and many more people learnt a trade. There were also far fewer women in the workforce. Only a small elite chose to attend university to get a degree, and these people were snapped up by employers.
Today, things are very different. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics report on statistical trends in education for the state of NSW in 2007, 85% of students complete their HSC, and almost 40% of those between 20 and 25 years of age are enroled in post-secondary education. Degrees, Diplomas and TAFE Certificates are now assumed knowledge for a majority of careers.
Teaching Standards Have Fallen
The Government has cut university funding since the late 1980s, whereas during the same period, private sector salaries increased greatly. This has led to talented Australia academics deciding to quit academia.
In their desperation for money, Australian universities have increased their reliance on full fee-paying Interational students, mainly from Asia and the Middle East, who pay lots more than locals for the privilege of an Australian degree.
University course content, assignments and exams have been dumbed down over the years to help ensure that people finish and ‘get out the door’ with minimum delay.
An Oversupply of University Graduates
Due to the large number of people that have degrees and the lowering of teaching standards, graduates face far more scrutiny when seeking employment.
Today’s employers want candidates to have practical experience in a commercial setting, objective proof of competence and demonstrated achievement in their field.
One of the greatest ironies is that due to the shift towards university education, there are now shortages of tradespeople in Australia. Bricklayers and plumbers now earn more money than many degree-qualified professionals.
Living and Educational Expenses Have Increased
Gittins is correct in stating that HECS [university course fees] can be deferred, and are only repayable once a student has an income greater than a predefined threshold (about $41,000 per annum). However, there are many expenses that cannot be deferred.
Textbooks and Course Notes Are More Expensive and Frequently Updated
We live in an age of rapid obsolescence and changes in the legal and political landscape.
New editions of textbooks are released almost every year and these can cost up to $200 per book. Some courses require multiple textbooks. For a full-time university student who studies four courses per semester, this can amount to $2000 per year.
Learning Tools and Equipment
Today’s students need modern learning tools. Although Universities say that they are optional, in practice no student wants to be disadvantaged compared to their peers. Such tools include laptop computers, mobile phones and broadband Internet access.
Amortised over the period of a degree, these tools can cost anywhere between $500 to $2000 per year.
Accomodation in Capital Cities is Expensive
Some students can continue living with their parents. Others can’t – this may be because their university is not close to their home, or they have a partner, or simply want their independence. These people require accomodation.
Most of the large reputable Australian Universities are located in capital cities. Over the last 10 years, the asset price bubble pushed capital city property prices to atmospheric heights.
Relentless immigration coupled with a slowdown in new property development have resulted in rental costs exploding. In the eastern suburbs of Sydney, a 1-bedroom apartment now rents for $500/week.
Previous generations certainly did not have to deal with this.