Preparing Generation Z for the job market that awaits them beyond their education years is, for many teachers, a daunting experience.
Industry 4.0, or the ‘fourth industrial revolution’, is a somewhat alien and terrifying concept for those of us bred in more terrestrial times; in which advanced digital skills were happily reserved for the elite minority of intellectually-gifted students.
But in a competitive global marketplace, Australia’s STEM skill shortage can no longer be ignored; and the teachers of today carry the heavy responsibility of generating the next wave of STEM innovators – through specialized and applicable lesson content.
The young people currently sitting in our classrooms need the skills, appetite, and knowledge that will enable them to one-day develop robots, disease cures, mobile phone applications and technology products; and ultimately become a workforce that will help restore Australia’s economic strength and reputation as a ‘top-tier innovation nation.’
For many teachers, this means educating students in topics outside the realm of their usual expertise; or often, in topics in which their students are more knowledgeable or adept than them.
It is for this reason that some schools throughout Australia are beginning to rely on specialized professional development programs to train and up-skill teachers so that they can, in turn, better educate their students.
The Amgen Biotech Experience is one such (free-of-charge) program, being offered to schools across Sydney, and further afield in NSW. It provides research-grade equipment, resources, and professional learning programs to teachers; giving them the tools they need to run classes on highly specialized topic areas such as biotechnology and molecular biology.
The equipment allows teachers to simulate a laboratory setting in their classrooms, and mimic the same practices that biotechnologists would use when, for example, developing a disease cure.
Teachers and students are provided with equipment such as micropipettes, gel electrophoresis apparatus, and PCR machines, and are taught the processes by which biotechnologists create insulin (used in the treatment of diabetes).
Some of the content of the training is university-level, but the resources, support, and equipment loaned to teachers as part of the program allows them to make the lessons accessible for their students.
Eugenia O’Brien is part of the initiative being delivered from the University of Sydney and says that this approach works because it helps students gain practical laboratory experience and get excited about the type of work they could be undertaking if they pursue this particular STEM discipline.
“Teachers have reported that even students who previously expressed no interest in wanting to pursue a career in STEM become engaged throughout these classes. We hope that many of the participating students develop aspirations to study STEM disciplines at university,” says Ms. O’Brien.
This professional development model has been running for thirty years in the USA but has only recently been adopted in Australia. At present, it is free-of-charge thanks to philanthropic donations from the Amgen Foundation.
Ms. O’Brien adds, “The content and scenarios of the lessons are based around medical and health-related areas. But the concepts, skills, and ways of thinking are transferable across a number of different disciplines; and may well go on to disrupt teaching practices in a big way as it becomes more widely implemented.”
Eugenia O’Brien will share further details into this exciting new initiative, including insights into recent success stories, at the STEM Education Conference – due to take place 25-26 July in Sydney.