The Independent Education Union’s official newspaper, The Point, carried a piece on Teachers for Peace in its latest edition.
We told The Point:
The importance of STEM education is well established: technology can help provide solutions to some of our biggest social challenges. But equally, technology can be used to do harm. How technology is used, and for whose benefit, deserves our attention.
Teachers for Peace, a national organisation launched in 2022 and a member of the Global Campaign for Peace Education, is asking teachers to consider the growing role of multinational weapons companies in Australian STEM education.
Teachers might be surprised to learn that some of our most popular STEM programs – like the National Youth Science Forum (NYSF), or the FIRST LEGO League – are sponsored by some of the biggest weapons companies in the world.
Lockheed Martin, which makes more money from warfare than any company on earth, is the NYSF’s major partner. Lockheed Martin has been associated with corporate misconduct and poor diligence on human rights, and is involved in the production of nuclear weapons.
BAE Systems, a major sponsor of the FIRST program, sold US$24 billion in arms in 2020. Human rights groups have named BAE in a dossier submitted to the International Criminal Court, seeking an investigation into the contribution of BAE executives to serious violations of international humanitarian law in Yemen that may amount to war crimes.
Both companies use their partnership with STEM programs to provide experiences that create positive brand association in children, families and teachers, in order to attract the ‘best and brightest’ to careers in the weapons industry.
At the NYSF, according to participants, high-achieving students have a ‘speed-dating’ careers session with Lockheed Martin engineers who promote opportunities for women and the chance to work on cutting edge technology, but say nothing about Lockheed’s core business.
“I felt quite disgusted that a science program aimed at children… had accepted money from this company,” one participant told us. “I had raised funds and come to NYSF wanting to enrich my natural curiosity through science – not to be swayed by big weapons companies to work for them.”
But don’t we need weapons, and people to make them? The proliferation of weapons is well recognised as a barrier to progress on peace and global cooperation. Consider that global military spending exceeded US$2 trillion in 2021, with no real increase in peace and human security. And at a time of an escalating climate crisis, last year the world’s richest countries spent 30 times more on their militaries than on climate finance for vulnerable nations. The big winners are the weapons companies, while critical human needs go unmet.
A number of Australian education departments agree that weapons companies shouldn’t advertise to children. Victoria, Queensland and NSW have added weapons manufacturers to the list of industries that can’t partner with schools – a list that includes other harmful industries like junk food, tobacco, and gambling.
The Independent sector can play a vital role in removing harmful influence in STEM education. Unions, education offices, and schools can adopt policies on the issue, and ask their favourite STEM programs to reconsider their association with weapons companies. And by becoming members of Teachers for Peace, sector educators can supercharge our work for peace and disarmament.