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The STEM scene in Australia

September 26, 2013

At the end of July, Australian Chief Scientist Dr. Ian Chubb gave a speech in Canberra on a topic that’s very close to Actua’s heart. In this public address, he identified a great challenge to Australia – one that threatens to leave them behind in terms of social, cultural and economic prosperity. He was speaking of the lack of STEM education currently being offered in his country. In researching Dr. Chubb’s background, I quickly uncovered that his job is to provide “high-level, independent advice to the Prime Minister and other ministers on matters relating to science, technology and innovation.”

At Actua, we’ve known for a long time just how important STEM is in realizing the potential of our young people, which means the potential of our country as a whole. And, it seems others have noticed. Dr. Chubb actually makes mention of countries like ours – countries that Australia might compare themselves against – as showing a sense of urgency in ensuring we are not left behind in the new global economy. He says that we are aiming to do this by, first of all, taking care of our STEM enterprise. In fact, throughout his speech, he advocates STEM as a way “to take as much control of our destiny as we can.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Dr. Chubb goes on to outline Australia’s need for an overarching body to implement a harmonized array of STEM activities and programs, collectively and coherently aimed at securing an enviable future for all. Not to sound too proud, but it looks as though Australia could use an Actua of its own!

For twenty years now, Actua has been that overarching body in Canada, that group responsible for coordinating such programs and ensuring that they are made available to all young people, regardless of gender, background, ability or socio-economic status. Dr. Chubb’s report is important to me on many levels – not least of which is the knowledge that countries like Australia are now realizing the importance of STEM and are making it a national priority – but particularly as it confirms what I’ve known for years: that Actua is on the right track.

One more major point that Dr. Chubb makes, and that I agree with wholeheartedly, is how important it is to expose young people to STEM and its possibilities, regardless of whether or not they find themselves falling in love with it. For even if young people do not pursue careers in STEM, the knowledge and respect for it that they gain through Actua outreach, camps, and workshops will do wonders in producing a population that understands how scientific research and innovation can contribute to a more enlightened and, ultimately, more livable society.

While we shouldn’t take pride in being “20 years ahead” of Australia, we should take pride in the fact that others are recognizing the merit of the type of work that Actua does, and are doing their best to emulate it. A country dedicated to STEM is a wonderful thing, but a world dedicated to the same, wherein we can share and exchange ideas and results, would be the ultimate achievement.