education.govt.nz

Providing future-world pathways into STEM careers

Issue: Volume 100, Number 4

Posted: 8 April 2021
Reference #: 1HAJcC

Education Gazette looks at what schools can do to encourage students to pursue study and career pathways in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

The VEX robotics competition finally gets underway after two Covid-related postponements.

The VEX robotics competition finally gets underway after two Covid-related postponements.

Technology is transforming the world of work and schools are tasked with preparing students for a future world that will inevitably require some level of STEM capability. 

The challenge is how to encourage more rangatahi to opt into STEM-related subjects and develop the necessary soft skills, particularly those who are under-represented in technology – females, and Māori and Pacific people.

Engaging whānau as influencers

Bringing parents and whānau into the conversation as early as primary school would help to reverse this decline, according to  Digital Skills for our Digital Future, a report just released by NZTech.

“Parents are key influencers behind student career choices and most parents probably do not understand the tech sector or understand how ‘playing with a computer’ will get you a job. So, it will be important to help both students and their parents better understand the importance of digital technologies,” states the report.

“While most (students) will not go on to become software programmers or data scientists, the early digital skills they learn will be as important for them as their knowledge of maths and English. Understanding how digital technologies work will also improve individual and national awareness of cybersecurity, privacy, how to manage data and how to work with digital tools. As tasks are automated in the future, those with digital skills will be most resilient to these changes.”

Teachers as key enablers

The report also says that it is vital for all teachers to be confident with STEM learning and knowledge of the technology workforce. Almost every role in the workplace will need some STEM knowledge and it is important that teachers see and understand what this world of work looks like, what jobs exist, and what learners will need to be successful.

“Educators are significant influencers in students’ decisions with respect to future learning and careers. If they are not aware of the large variety of opportunities within the digital technology workforce, they will not be encouraging students to consider these options.”

Making STEM careers relatable

Showing young people what jobs in the STEM area look like is a key aspect of a new programme, Science Alive Mātauranga, recently launched by Education Perfect. 

The programme, designed in collaboration with the Science Alive! charitable trust, includes photos and video clips of people in STEM roles who young people can relate to, not just people we see on the news, says Lauren Pugh, teacher consultant for Education Perfect.

“Mātauranga Māori is knowledge about connectedness, just as science concepts are, so we’re looking at how we can inform and explore in an unbiased way, acknowledging Aotearoa’s history and our people as well as technology and science from multiple perspectives,” she says. 

“For example, in one of our lessons we talk about collaboration in Antarctica, and we connect that with Tāne Mahuta creating the first woman. He did that by calling on his whānau to collect the relevant skills to create the first woman, so we talk about how Antarctica uses their whānau with the relevant skills to reach the goals of the Antarctic Treaty.”

The rise of robotics

Another platform for promoting digital technology is VEX, an international robotics programme designed to promote STEM learning and pursuit of technology careers. According to VEX, 95 per cent of participants report an increased interest in the pursuit of STEM subjects and STEM-related careers, after participating in the programme. 

Kiwibots, organisers of the New Zealand arm of VEX events, say that the programme provides unique opportunities for teamwork, engineering design, working with complex electronics and international relationship building. 

David Aston, who took out the international Teacher of the Year award at the 2016 VEX World Championships, has been teaching robotics at Auckland’s Glenfield College for 13 years. 

He has guided dozens of students through competitions and onto STEM-related careers. He observes that girls need more encouragement to get involved and says he provides a structure for them to work within and says he suggests next steps and provides a structure for them to work within. 

Rebekah Freestone, 15, joined VEX after watching her brother compete. “The hardest part is starting; Mr Aston makes us get started.”

Boosting female teacher and student confidence

Confidence does not magically arrive with adulthood and many teachers also lack confidence in STEM subjects, according to the NZTech report.  

“If educators are not confident with digital technologies, this may indirectly influence students, particularly girls. The majority of primary school teachers are women. If they are uncomfortable with technology, then girls see this, and it may reinforce stereotypes.”

To address this, a group of New Zealand women working in technology set up ShadowTech Teachers, an event that pairs teachers with tech gurus for a workplace visit and a Q&A session.  Teachers can pick the brains of technology professionals for information and advice to take back to their classrooms. 

The scheme also runs ShadowTech, which gives girls in Years 9-11 the opportunity to spend time with tech women at work so they can get an inside look at the industry. 

One Christchurch female student said, “I expected people in this field to code and do all stuff in computers, but they don’t. There are lots of opportunities and women are really needed. It is flexible and there are lots of different things to do. Technology is fast-paced, and our creativity and empathy are needed to be shown more in this field.” 

Diversity in technology careers

Eva Sherwood, chair of TechWomen and manager at Deloitte New Zealand, says that including women, Māori, people with disabilities, LGBTQI+ and other under-represented groups in product development and decision-making ensures a broader understanding of the customer’s needs and better targeted tech products.

“All sectors are being transformed through technology and skilled tech workers are wanted in a wide range of sectors. Government services are increasingly going digital too, changing the way services are delivered to customers,” says Eva.

Supporting Māori

At Massey University, Naomi Manu leads Pūhoro STEM Academy, a programme designed to support Māori leadership and capability in science.  

Science tutors go into schools to work with small groups of senior students on kaihotu (looking at identity or culture), 21st-century skills such as work-ready skills, and career exposure. The programme also facilitates wānanga and experiential learning, so rangatahi can navigate career pathways into STEM.

Schools partnering with Pūhoro make a commitment not to stream Māori students out of science. 

“Two-thirds of our students who would have typically been streamed out of science are either meeting or exceeding nationwide pass rates of non-Māori in physics, chemistry, biology, core science and maths across NCEA levels 1, 2 and 3,” says Naomi.

The programme partners with business, including Genesis, which Naomi describes as “an important door to the energy sector”. 

“We also have access to their talent pool, so we’ve got people who are able to speak with students about their own STEM pathways. We also have ESR, the Institute of Environmental Science and Research, and scientists come in to deliver forensic science sessions.”

Pūhoro graduate and engineering student Luke August spent his summer on an internship at Massey University building a prosthetic hand, one of many opportunities he says have come his way through the STEM academy. 

“The tutorials helped me to gain clarity on concepts I learnt in class and I found out how science is used in the real world. They also helped me find a connection back to my Māori heritage. There’s quite a lack of Māori in science so it’s awesome to have the Pūhoro network.”

 

STEM programmes on offer

There are a number of programmes available to schools to support STEM education; here we look at four.  

Science Alive Mātauranga 

Science Alive Mātauranga is STEM learning content designed for learners ages 9-13. It has been produced by Education Perfect and Science Alive! and is free to all schools in Aotearoa. 

The first module, ‘Antarctic Adventures – See it, Love it, Save it’ covers contexts of science, human impact and environmental change. A second module in development is an interactive video series based around the stories of inspirational New Zealanders working in STEM. Content will be developed continuously for the next two years.

Teachers can join the Science Alive Mātauranga community on Facebook to share ideas and gain access to webinars, and book in for free in-school professional development. 

VEX 

Teammates Mia and Bede compete at the 2021 VEX robotics competition.

Teammates Mia and Bede compete at the 2021 VEX robotics competition.

VEX is an international robotics programme designed to promote STEM learning and pursuit of technology careers. The programme runs on the Northern Hemisphere calendar with a new challenge announced each April.

In New Zealand, Kiwibots guides teachers to deliver VEX learning by mapping the programme next to the national curriculum. The 12 instruction units can be used as standalones or in sequence. 

Collaborative skills, essential in today’s working world, are very much part of the learning – although they don’t necessarily come easily, says Glenfield High School student Henry Croft, 16. 

“About two years ago my team got into a situation where we couldn’t agree with each other about what the problem was, so for about six months we were arguing back and forth. Eventually we figured out that wasn’t going to work, and we managed to find a process to solve the issue without clashing. 

“We’re still working together two years on and we’ve got a much better system in place. It’s been character-building; you learn to work with people and adjust to how different people learn and do things.”

The annual VEX World Championship attracts around 20,000 teams from more than 50 countries each year. Each year a new challenge is presented and student teams design and build robots to complete the challenge. There are three competition levels:  VEX IQ (up to age 14), VEX VRC (up to age 18) and VEX U (university). 

ShadowTech 

ShadowTech is a mentoring programme for girls in Years 9-11 led by TechWomen NZ. Opportunities include work experience with local businesses and connecting with young women in STEM tertiary study.

After their involvement with ShadowTech, 87 per cent of students said they felt encouraged to consider a career in technology. 

“I really loved being able to learn about a career I didn’t even know existed. It has shown me there is a lot more out there than you think,” said one Dunedin student.

ShadowTech industry mentors come from over 93 different organisations, including Air New Zealand, BNZ, Spark, Xero and many smaller local businesses. Students can register interest online at  www.shadowtech.nz.

Pūhoro STEM Academy

Pūhoro tutors go into high schools to work with Māori students studying science. There is a big emphasis on cultural connections as well as regular opportunities for experiential learning. 

Pūhoro continues to support students through their tertiary studies by facilitating internships. Forty-six graduate students were helped into placements with a STEM focus for the summer. 

Pūhoro operates in South Auckland, Christchurch, Palmerston North and Hawke’s Bay. Schools outside these areas are encouraged to register their interest. 

STEM symposium coming up soon

NZQA is hosting a free symposium to help schools engage Māori and Pacific students in STEM on 22 April at Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington.

High-performing schools will share how they engage Māori and Pacific students in STEM subjects.

The symposium will also provide practical tools to help encourage students to pursue these pathways. Presentations and panel input from employers, students, whānau, community groups and others will focus on how schools can help overcome the roadblocks to STEM study.

NZQA continued signalling its intent to promote STEM within Māori and Pacific learner communities when launching Te Kōkiritanga and Takiala Pasifika strategic action plans at the end of last year. 

Since the plans have been launched, a resource booklet called STEM It Up(external link)! has been created as an accessible guide to these subjects for Pacific students. STEM It Up! is designed in the style of a graphic novel; using QR codes to link to videos where Pacific people talk about their careers in medicine, research, design, engineering and computing.

Places at the symposium are limited, with more information and a link to register available at nzqa.govt.nz/stems(external link).

 

“Pūhoro helped me find my passion”

For 15-year-old Meschka Seifritz, school was merely “somewhere to go to play sport and eat my lunch” – that is, until she joined Pūhoro STEM Academy. 

Meschka found her passion at the Pūhoro STEM Academy.

Meschka found her passion at the Pūhoro STEM Academy.

“There was a notice inviting Māori students who were interested in science to go to a meeting and I went so I could get out of class. I signed up for Pūhoro purely because it included trips, which meant more time out of class. I was 100 per cent not interested in science. But ever since getting involved in the programme, I’ve been focused on study, it changed me a lot.”

Now 20, Meschka is in her third year of Environmental Studies and Māori Studies at Massey University. 

She is still supported by the team at Pūhoro who helped her secure an internship with Palmerston North City Council, and she spent her summer looking at ways to improve freshwater quality. Meschka is the first in her whānau to pursue a career in a STEM-related pathway. 

Pivotal mentoring

Throughout Years 11, 12 and 13, Meschka and the other Pūhoro students at Feilding High School met weekly with programme tutors and mentors. 

“I thought, ‘Man, these guys really care about my academic progress’, which made me realise that I could start caring about it as well. They helped me keep my grades up so I could get into university and they showed me how science could lead to so many different career paths.”

Until then, science had been Meschka’s weakest subject –
“I was going to drop it as soon as the school would let me.” 

Meschka says that representation of Māori in the STEM, particularly technology, workforce is so low that it’s unlikely that most Māori students will have parents with STEM backgrounds pushing them into science.

“An important part of the programme is the kaihautū, having someone there who genuinely cares about your academic success, because it’s so unlikely that the students are getting that at home.

“My family is very supportive, but they’ve got no idea what I’m actually doing. Pretty much my whole family works at the meatworks in Feilding. I’m the first one to go to uni, for sure. They’re very proud that I’m doing something for the environment and for Māori.”

Alongside her studies, Meschka trains other Pūhoro graduates to tutor the programme’s next cohort. 

“It’s extremely rewarding. One of them was just saying to me, ‘Man, I’d do this for free just to give back to the programme’. Pūhoro helped me find my passion.”

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 8:57 am, 8 April 2021

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