The ESA Central Council and the heads of Economics departments at various Australian universities have had a number of discussions about declining enrolments in Economics and the lack of diversity in enrolments. There are low enrolments of women, but there are also low enrolments of students from disadvantaged backgrounds. This is largely due to the decline in the number of high schools that offer Economics as a subject. High schools in disadvantaged areas are particularly unlikely to offer Economics. Over the long term, this will impact the ability of economists to understand the full range of challenges that Australians from all backgrounds face. (See A Matter of Diversity | Speeches | RBA.)
In response, we’re asking ESA members to consider getting involved in CSIRO’s “STEM Professionals in Schools” program. This program pairs a professional from a discipline that uses STEM skills (such as economics) with a STEM teacher. ESA members who are interested would be paired with a math teacher in year 7, 8 or 9 at a high school in a disadvantaged area. The partnership can take many forms, but it might involve the volunteer speaking to the class, or providing some real-life examples of how math is used in our work, and why our work is fascinating.
We’re focusing on year 7, 8, and 9 and because that is the age at which many people disconnect from mathematics. The goal would be to encourage students to stick with mathematics beyond year 10 (so that they can enrol in a Commerce degree if they choose), and to raise awareness of Economics as a possible field of study. And evidence shows that there are significant benefits in terms of job quality and job satisfaction to students continuing to study mathematics. For those of us who are passionate about seeing more women in economics, it is often women who disconnect from mathematics; and women are much more likely to choose economics as a field if they hear from women economists, or if they realise that the field is about solving real-world human problems (see Why Study (or Not Study) Economics? A Survey of High School Students | Bulletin – June 2020 | RBA).
Once you enrol in the program you are paired with a teacher who has expressed interest in the program. The teacher and you then discuss your background and the teacher’s challenges, and figure out ways that you might be involved. Some possibilities include:
Levels of involvement vary, but the average amount of time given by a professional is about 10 hours a year.
The next step is to complete an application for the STEM Professionals in Schools program at STEM Professionals in Schools - CSIRO. If you’re willing to be partnered with a teacher at a disadvantaged school, please indicate that on your application (under “first preference”).
The requirements for the program are (1) a bachelor degree in a STEM-related field (such as economics), or relevant experience; and (2) a Working with Children Check.
Feel free to reach out to me at email@example.com or the CSIRO team at STEMprofessionalsinSchools@csiro.au if you have any questions. In particular, I’d be very happy to chat about your work and which aspects might be relevant to a middle-school maths class.
Thanks for considering this opportunity! It will be a really rewarding experience.
Catherine de Fontenay
President, ESA Central Council