M-RCBG Associate Working Paper No. 18

Growing the STEM: Encouraging Interest in STEM subjects among low socio-economic Australian secondary students

Tarah Barzanji



The client for this paper, the Australian Business Community Network, was established to harness business resources to address educational inequities in Australia. The organization is a network of 30+ large Australian companies, which designs and runs business-to-school mentoring programs for students in ‘high-need’ schools.

- Problematically, given Australia’s deeply held desires for equity and intergenerational mobility,1 socio-economic status (SES) is positively associated with the educational engagement and performance of Australian secondary students. The relationship is observable across all of the key subject areas in the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), rendering it possible to claim that “the higher the level of socioeconomic background, the higher the student performance.”

- This paper focuses on the weak participation and poor performance of low SES students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) related subjects. Like the general data, a disproportionately high number of low socio-economic students perform poorly in STEM subjects. Somewhat unsurprisingly given the weak performance of low SES students in junior-level subjects, a disproportionately low number undertake senior STEM subjects.

- The weak participation and poor performance of low SES students in STEM secondary school education has both negative equity and economic implications.

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