The world has become full with activities parading as solutions to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education. Like a box of chocolates, many taste great and will give you a STEM hit… Some will leave you with a bad taste… But in the majority of instances, there is no lasting educational outcome. After you have finished your chocolate, you’re left with an empty box wondering what all this STEM thing is about.

This is the view of Dr Michael Myers OAM, and I agree with him. There are very few real STEM activities available to schools today which can deliver long-term and lasting STEM educational outcomes. Dr Myers established Re-Engineering Australia (or REA as it is more commonly referred to) 20 years ago because, as an engineer himself, he saw the education system wasn’t delivering enough students with the appropriate skills to become engineers.

Last year, the Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel AO, warned that: “The enemy of our future prosperity is complacency. Past investments in skills development have underpinned our strong economy and enviable lifestyle, which in turn have diminished our sense of urgency. While our school system remains above average among OECD countries, the achievement of our students across science, literacy and numeracy is declining.

“To meet the challenges of ever more sophisticated international competition in advanced products and services, employers need to be able to access an increasingly skilled workforce, whose skills include traditional sciences and mathematics, information and communications technologies (ICT), and the 21st century skills that prepare our youth for a lifetime of unfolding career opportunities.”

Dr Finkel is correct with his comments. By most reports, science, literacy and numeracy are declining but there are proven programs that buck this trend and REA is at the forefront of this change. My impression is that Australia produces the best STEM students in the world and we are getting better at it.

One of REA’s flagship programs is F1 In Schools, now regarded as one of the world’s most competitive STEM competitions involving over 17,000 schools from 44 countries. Students design, make and race a miniature Formula 1 car capable of reaching 80km/hour in under one second. In 2006, Australia produced its first F1 In Schools world champions and we have gone on to win the world title many times since then.

I have seen first-hand the skills these students display. Design capabilities, problem solving, communication skills, industry engagement, entrepreneurialism, teamwork, resilience and presentation skills. In my opinion, these are the skills that Dr Finkel refers to as the 21st Century skills that we will need to rebuild the base for Australia’s manufacturing future.

If this truly is the perspective of Government, and the sense is urgent, then they need to back programs that have a proven track record of success. I firmly believe that if programs as successful as REA’s have been were more widely available in the school system then we would not have media giving the impression that our educational standards are slipping.