Indigenous participation in STEM

29 February 2024

New research released from the Australian Government’s Women in STEM Ambassador will help accelerate Australia’s progress towards a more equitable science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce.

Associate Professor Marnee Shay and her team from The University of Queensland’s School of Education focused on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation in STEM as part of the study.

“Our aim was to contribute new knowledge through the elevation of Indigenous voices, knowledges and perspectives,” Dr Shay said.

“The Big Mob STEM it up project revealed there needs to be more Indigenous-led, peer-reviewed evaluations of interventions to increase Indigenous participation in STEM.

“There has also been an emphasis on science, meaning there needs to be more understanding of Indigenous participation in technology, engineering, and mathematics.”

The study further revealed that while most interventions are educationally based, Indigenous participants shared that family and community were the most significant influences on them entering a STEM field.

In contrast, results showed there is still limited recognition of Indigenous STEM knowledge.

“To understand Indigenous participation in STEM, understanding Indigenous STEM knowledges and how they are present within STEM education and STEM fields is critical,” Dr Shay said.

Part of the research included yarning with Indigenous trailblazers in STEM.

These were transformed into a podcast series to develop a valuable resource for Indigenous communities and schools seeking to increase Indigenous participation in STEM.

Ambassador Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith said the comprehensive research design enabled Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices to understand diverse perspectives on increasing Indigenous participation in STEM.

“A community-based survey revealed that almost a quarter of Indigenous people did not know what the term STEM was or what it meant.

“Findings like these provide governments practical and Indigenous-informed ways of engaging Indigenous people in STEM education and career pathways through breaking down barriers such as language,” she said.

The project strives to create pathways for Indigenous individuals to excel and contribute their invaluable perspectives and knowledge to the STEM community.

“The findings of this research were clear – our national efforts should prioritise systemic modifications, not programs targeting individuals, to create lasting change.”

Artwork by Wagiman Artist, Tara-Rose Gonebale.