Why we need to copy the UK on STEM education

BBC Micro BitThere’s an extraordinary level of STEM activity in the UK and it’s gone well beyond political talk and into real action. We need to be copying them.

So many people I’ve been talking to recently have pointed to all that’s happening in the UK. They’ve got a STEM curriculum that involves actual coding. They are making determined moves to get coding and computing into schools. There is training for teachers, and complementary equipment being developed and released all over the place. And the BBC is acting as a foundation building block for a lot of this.

The BBC’s latest move is to give away mini-computers to 11-year-olds across the country. One million Micro Bits – a stripped-down computer similar to a Raspberry Pi – will be given to all pupils starting secondary school in the autumn term. The Micro Bits are nifty little starting points that lead into Arduinos and Raspberry Pi – cleverly the BBC is determinedly not competing with the more sophisticated boards, but trying to deliberately lead onto them.

The BBC is also launching a season of coding-based programmes and activities including a new drama based on Grand Theft Auto and a documentary on Bletchley Park.

It would be easy to start dissecting the details of the new curriculum, the teacher training, the suitability of the platforms or devices. How many of those Micro Bits will end up at the bottom of a drawer, for exampleThere are legitimate criticisms that can be leveled at individual elements, but at least they have a raft of elements about which criticisms can be made. We don’t have anything like those elements in play. And although individual elements might be open to question, you put the whole raft of activity together and the UK seems to be making real headway while we’re still floundering around failing to get beyond the level of politicians pontificating (and at least Malcolm Turnbull is talking about the issue, which is more than most others are doing). We need to see some action.

Sure, we could run around coming up with something uniquely Australian. But why can’t we just look to things that work in a system with similar values and approaches to our own and get on with it? I don’t want to be having continual conversations about all the great stuff coming out of the UK; I want to be discussing all the great stuff we’re doing.

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