Shaping science, technology, engineering and mathematics curriculum in Australian schools: An ecological systems analysis
Australian Journal of Education
School of Education
Australian Department of Education, Skills and Employment
Improving young people’s engagement in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) is being promoted worldwide as a means of addressing projected shortfalls in expertise needed to further nations’ economic, social and environmental goals. Responding to this, schools are reforming traditional discipline-based curricula into interdisciplinary approaches based on problem and project-based designs, to make STEM learning more relevant and meaningful for students. This study drew on a dataset of 449 Australian principal and teacher interviews, to identify factors influencing STEM curriculum in their schools. It utilised Ecological Systems Theory to build understanding relating to the influence of activities and outputs originating at macro, exo and meso system levels, on STEM curriculum and practices in classrooms. Results demonstrated how many innovative schools were able to successfully leverage community, business and national resources to enhance their STEM curriculum, while others struggled due to limitations imposed by geographic or socio-economic factors, or limited access to resources, expertise or advice. Central to achieving this was the powerful influence of principals’ and teachers’ proximal processes and developmental assets in establishing effective and engaging interdisciplinary STEM curricula, despite constraints imposed by, at best, ambiguous national and state curriculum and policies, rigid assessment regimes and compliance-focused reporting requirements.