An all-female team of Curtin University educators has travelled to Indonesia to help improve the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education skills of pre-service teachers.
The Strengthening Australian Indonesian Connections through Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics Education project began in early October when Dr Rachel Sheffield, Dr Rekha Koul and Dr Susan Blackley from the STEM Education Research Group within Curtin’s School of Education visited Universitas Negeri Jakarta (the Public Pedagogical University of Jakarta) for three days.
Funded by an Australia-Indonesia Institute grant, the three Curtin researchers held intensive STEM training workshops for teachers and pre-service teachers, and demonstrated examples of STEM-based learning activities for primary school students to undertake.
Like Australia, Indonesia is facing shortages in the number of STEM-educated university graduates, with a 2013 report by the Boston Consulting Group revealing that the expanding Indonesian economy requires a 40 per cent increase in the number of engineering students graduating each year to sustain itself, with this number expected to increase to 70 per cent by 2025.
By developing the abilities of pre-service teachers to conduct STEM-based learning activities, the Curtin team hope to increase an interest in STEM amongst primary school students to eventually address this shortage once the students are old enough to attend university.
“In order to increase the interest in STEM among school students, and female students in particular, it is important to give teachers enough support in their own learning to transform their classrooms into learner-interactive environments and create opportunities for students’ independent inquiry,” says Dr Sheffield.
After the workshops, the team, along with 40 Indonesian pre-service teachers, journeyed to four nearby primary schools in Jakarta and supported students to create a “wiggle bot” – a simple robot constructed out of a small cup, clothes peg, paddle pop stick and text markers that is powered by a small electric motor.
The activity, as well as the novelty of working in small groups and the opportunity to be mentored by a pre-service teacher, proved to be a great hit for both the students and teachers.
“After being a little reticent, the students in the classrooms enjoyed the activities and talking to the pre-service teachers,” says Dr Sheffield.
“The classroom teachers also enjoyed being part of the activity, and we have been asked by principals of the schools to return and assist them with professional development around STEM subjects,” adds Dr Koul.
The project in Indonesia is an extension of an existing Western Australian project, which was created to address declining interest in STEM subjects in schools, as well as the low numbers of female STEM university graduates. It was during this project that a participating female Curtin education student coined the term “STEMinists” to refer to the group.
Now that their initial visit to Indonesia is over, Dr Sheffield, Dr Koul and Dr Blackley will collaborate with their colleagues at Universitas Negeri Jakarta to analyse survey data they collected from primary school students and pre-service teachers to investigate their engagement with the STEM-based activities, and compare them to the Western Australian project.
“We are keen to see if the classroom teachers and students see the STEMinists as role models, and if the program can increase engagement and involvement in STEM,” elaborates Dr Blackley.
The team confirms this isn’t the last that Indonesia has heard from the Curtin STEMinists, as there are plans to undertake an extended visit in early February 2017 to train Indonesian pre-service teachers in two other STEM-based activities. Dr Sheffield, Dr Koul and Dr Blackley also plan to invite some Curtin education students in order to mentor the activities – in collaboration with Indonesian pre-service teachers – at the four schools previously visited.