What's it about?

There’s currently a surge of interest in programmes targeting Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths (STEM), focusing on educators and others looking at where the jobs are right now and into the future. The critical thing about STEM education is that it is intended to be an interdisciplinary curriculum. Rather than teach these four disciplines as separate and discrete subjects, STEM integrates into “interdependent” learning units based on real-world applications.

The drivers behind STEM are a significant contributor to the development in New Zealand, of the recently announced Digital Technologies Curriculum and the steady rise in interest and participation in initiatives such as the Maker Movement and Coding programmes in schools.

What's driving this?

Behind the STEM focus is an economic imperative based on ensuring our current and future workforce are prepared for a STEM-based economy in the future. There are two basic drivers behind this approach, both deserving attention, but often the first is emphasised at the expense of the second.

1. Current skills shortages

Across the globe, there are reported shortages of workers with the necessary skills to fill positions in tech-based industries. If we are to meet this growing demand, there is an urgent need to ensure young people are given the opportunity to experience and develop an interest in the key areas of science, maths, and technology so that they emerge from school ready to take up roles in these sorts of industries. The response to this driver is often seen in the provision of more STEM subjects as discrete parts of the curriculum.

2. Future skills shortages

Considering what skills a future workforce will need leads to a greater focus on the development of integrated or interdisciplinary approaches, and on the development of competencies and transferable skills. Rather than focus purely on specific skill development, the emphasis here is on innovation and design. Purists in the STEM movement argue this is where the focus must be.

The emphasis on innovation leads to some of the counter-arguments being made to a ‘purely’ STEM approach. Innovation is not simply a technical matter but rather one of understanding how people and societies work, what they need and want. It involves a broader set of skills that includes creativity and communication, for example. Innovation is built on the successes and failures of the past, and of the potential impact on society into the future — thus requiring knowledge of history and development of citizenship. No nation will achieve success in the 21st century simply by making cheaper computer chips, but, instead, by constantly reimagining how computers and other new technologies interact with human beings.

What examples of this can I see?

Evidence of the uptake of STEM in New Zealand schools is now apparent in all levels of our schooling system — examples are listed below (see Readings list for further information)

Maker spaces

Specialist workshop areas where learners are encouraged to pursue ideas for building/creating solutions involving use of a wide range of tools and technologies. These are appearing both within schools and in public places such as libraries.

Code clubs

Avariety of initiatives such as CodeClub Aotearoa and Code Avengers have emerged to support students learning coding. Most of these operate out of school hours, although, there is a growing amount of resource to support teachers with their in-school programmes.


Whether using kits such as the Lego Mindstorms or building from scratch, having teams of students pool their skills to build robots that they then enter into competitions to test the robustness of their design, is an extremely successful way of engaging learners in STEM subjects.

Science fairs

These have been around for years, but a growing number now are focused more deliberately as events for students to showcase the outcomes of their genuine inquiry and teamwork in STEM areas.

How might we respond?

The focus on STEM is creating opportunities for robust discussion within schools and their communities about what is important for young people to be learning. Some questions to act as a stimulus with your colleagues include:

  • What priority is given to the teaching/learning of science, technology, engineering, and maths in your school? Are these taught as separate subjects or in integrated ways?
  • How could you provide even more integrated approaches to STEM education in your school? Are the learning experiences that you create based in authentic contexts for the learners?
  • How are you engaging with expertise outside of your school to ensure students have access to the best thinking and advice in STEM subjects?
  • What about the other areas of the curriculum such as social sciences, languages, and the arts?
  • What is your school’s position on this? How might they complement the work in STEM and be included in any integrated approaches to learning that you plan?
  • Articles

    Articles Articles

    A brief history of makerspaces

    A post from the Curiosity Commons blog exploring where the growing maker movement originated, how makerspaces made their way in to education, and how makerspaces ended up in school libraries.

    Ten Trends 2014: Maker culture

    This idea of making, of building, of constructing has a strong basis in research. Active learning increases the rate of learning faster than passive learning. Simply watching others build or make things fire up parts of our brain that are left untouched by passive learning.

    Designing a school makerspace

    As maker activities expand to require more tools, it makes more sense to create a dedicated makerspace that includes appropriate tools, work areas and materials. This article outlines a design approach focussed on creating dedicated makerspaces and STEAM labs.

    Setting up a school makerspace

    Two steps to follow when setting up a makerspace, as well as resources to help.

    So why the STEM push?

    This article from Education HQ discusses why the Ministry of Education has established several programmes and strategies to foster good teaching, which is needed to inspire students to tackle STEM subjects, and to excel in them.

    STEM programme bringing innovation into primary schools

    Primary school teacher Nick Pattison has his students studying a range of topics from underwater robotics to mould in Kiwi homes and helping solve real-world issues, through an immersion programme in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

    STEM – strong roots planted in Christchurch

    In mid-June, Linwood College's 32-page glossy booklet introducing New Zealand to STEM education – the story of "an exciting new initiative that is growing out of the rubble" and an invitation to the Christchurch and New Zealand communities to "join the conversation" – was launched at the school by Professor Sir Peter Gluckman, Chief Science Adviser to the Prime Minister.

    Seven reasons why your school should teach robotics and game design

    One teacher describes the big impact robotics, coding, and STEM has had on her students.

    New Zealand needs to raise the tech bar

    Robett Hollis, a fast rising Māori tech leader, says New Zealand needs to raise the bar and celebrate more of our successes as rapidly changing technology is now transforming the world.

    Not enough people to fill tech jobs

    A government move to expand technology education in schools doesn't go far enough to develop the specialists the growing sector needs, say industry leaders.

  • Professional Learning

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