PhD researcher inspired to improve education

When Education PhD candidate Aimé Sacrez was tasked with presenting his research topic at this month’s La Trobe 3 Minute Thesis competition, he thought of his daughter.

“For me, it’s a thesis, but for Jessica, it’s her future,” says Aimé, seated opposite his seven-year-old daughter, who’s on campus with dad for the day.

“Jessica loves maths and science, and she also loves art and writing. The way the education system is set up, she has to choose between two pathways, STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) or HASS (humanities, arts, social sciences).

“Really, what Jessica wants to do is help people and help the environment. She aspires to make the world a better place.”

Aimé says his interviews with high school students suggest that education might be smothering their aspirations, by slicing their days into blocks of specific subjects, rather than fostering their whole interests and abilities.

“We need to put the Arts in STEM so that students learn to use all of their critical, creative, ethical and social capabilities,” he says.

Aimé’s thesis is making a case for bringing interdisciplinary project-based learning into mainstream teaching. He says this is happening in differing degrees in schools, and now, Tech Schools, but he believes it should be embedded into public curriculum.

He’s drawing on known theories, collating case studies, interviews, observations and data from secondary schools and Tech Schools to determine what good-quality project-based teaching and learning looks like. 

“I believe that Tech Schools could revolutionise secondary education, if teachers can embed these STEAM programs into their own schools. Yet, during interviews, school teachers have told me they need support to make this happen. I’m addressing this issue, by developing a framework which helps teachers design STEAM programs with their Tech School to connect with industry and community.”

Aimé says doing so would improve outcomes for individual students, as well as society, by fostering independent, holistic thinkers.

“We have a whole generation of young people who are counting on our education system to prepare them for the future. But our idea of what the future is, is a little bit too specialised,” he says.

Take, for example, the challenge of climate change. This week activist Greta Thunberg took the world’s leaders to task with her emotional address at the UN Climate Summit.

“Decisions are being made by educated people, decisions are being made by people in power, who have completely lost the idea that we have one planet,” Aimé says.

“Greta draws on science and reminds people the science has been here for 30 years, but she’s also creating a story. She’s building a narrative around a scientific issue.

“By the time students get to secondary school, there is no reason they couldn’t be solving real world problems.”

“I want to make education whole again. To ensure that a whole generation of students like Jessica are supported to make the world a better place, by being scientists, being humanitarians, and being artists.”

Aimé’s thesis is just the start. He says when that’s done, he’ll have the framework, and fodder, to write a book.

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