The STEM teacher
Quality education in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics
has become a major concern for governments and policy-makers all over
the world. Indeed, neither technology-driven economies nor democratic
societies can develop without a critical mass of STEM skilled knowledge
workers and a population of citizens with sufficient STEM literacy.
Unfortunately, the scientific literacy of the population is often
inadequate in most of the developed countries. Moreover there is a
dramatic lack of interest among the youth to opt for STEM studies and
The independent and multidisciplinary Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Science and the Arts recognized the importance of this issue and invited Professor José Mariano Gago (1948-2015) as a “Thinker” to reflect on this question, whether Flanders is indeed on its way towards an enthusiastic, curiosity and innovation driven knowledge society. One of his most striking conclusions, confirmed by other stakeholders in Flanders, can be summarized as follows:
Flanders is in urgent need of a review of the curriculum, teaching methods and learning outcomes in primary but mainly secondary education. There is even more urgency to upgrade our teachers’ status and to thoroughly reconsider the way teachers are trained, coached and retained in and for STEM education today.
As a follow-up of these recommendations, a working group of fellows of the Academy and other Flemish experts in the field focused on the “STEM teacher” for the present position paper. It is felt that many of the findings and recommendations here extend beyond the Flemish region.
This report is addressed to the teachers and their associations, the school managements, the inspection, educational supervisors, the professors and deans of the faculties of science and engineering of the Flemish universities, and educational policy makers both in the Flemish government and within the umbrella organizations of school organisers.
This position paper has four chapters:
1. Context and history, the present scene in Flanders
2. STEM: meaning, cohesion and importance
3. STEM education
4. The teacher in STEM education.
The report substantiates nine recommendations, all in the last two chapters, referred to by (1), (2) … in this summary.
Science, technology, engineering and mathematics are significant fields of knowledge, each having their own (r)evolutionary dynamics. They are entangled and have a great influence on each other. STEM relates to all aspects of our lives and is able to contribute to the grand challenges of our modern society (energy, mobility, digitalization, health …) Both STEM professionals and technology users, like all of us, are exposed to ethical aspects of STEM. These motivating factors do not receive enough attention in secondary education.
Three didactical recommendations for quality STEM education are formulated: (1) STEM teachers should show their pupils the relevance of their curriculum to bridge the gap with youth culture, by contextualizing, by responding to the values, interests and environment of pupils and by answering why the matters to be learned are so important. (2) STEM education should seek better integration of the four STEM components, with respect for their individuality. (3) STEM teachers should involve pupils in the creative learning processes typical to STEM, such as arguing, investigating, designing and problem solving.
These recommendations require a major revision of STEM education, solidly founded on educational research. (4) This process must be prepared by educational actors.
The persistent shortage of teachers (especially in science, mathematics and technology), combined with a lack of attraction for and retention in the profession is a matter of great concern. Moreover most teachers lack the broad view on the entanglement between, evolution in and applications of the STEM disciplines.
(5) To upgrade the status of teachers in society, the teaching profession should have career incentives and the professionalism of the teacher should be recognized.
(6) Schools should strive to have a STEM department, bringing together teachers in charge of the education in the various sciences, technology and mathematics, to collaborate on project work, harmonize curriculum and have consultation with external STEM professionals.
(7) The Flemish education system provides too little time for professional support for teachers. STEM teachers should be encouraged and supported to adopt a lifelong learning attitude. There is a need for further training and retraining, good mentoring and (international) networking.
To achieve these recommendations, (8) it is suggested that a STEM education centre be created, modeled after international examples of successful STEM centres. It should bring together, develop and disseminate expertise, learning material and equipment on STEM education.
(9) Moreover, an initial Master program in STEM education should be installed. It should be open to all academic bachelors in a STEM field. It should lead to teaching qualification for the subject in which the degree of the student is situated (academic degree in a STEM field). This degree would require a total of five years of tertiary education and should be organized beside the existing teacher programs.