Making sure future workers have STEM skills and can work in these areas is an important part of supporting Australia's national prosperity, now and in the future.
This is why the Australian Government funds several early learning and school-based initiatives under the Inspiring all Australians in Digital Literacy and STEM measures of the National innovation and Science Agenda (NISA).
Early Learning STEM initiatives
As part of the Inspiring all Australians in Digital Literacy, STEM Literacy measure, the government is investing $14 million over four years from 2016-17 to promote positive learning experiences for children aged three to five years. This will include the development of early learning STEM resources and training for educators, as well as more opportunities for families and children to take part in fun and exciting STEM activities.
Early Learning STEM Australia (ELSA) pilot
The government is investing $6 million over three years from 2016–17 for play-based apps that inspire curiosity and interest in STEM among preschool-aged children.
The University of Canberra will design, develop, and implement the ELSA pilot, which includes digital learning experiences rich in STEM concepts, delivered on tablet devices. The ELSA pilot will begin in Term 1, 2018.
Children at the 100 pilot preschools will have access to four play-based ELSA apps, aligned with the Early Years Learning Framework. The apps encourage learning beyond the screen through active, child-centred experiences that introduce STEM practices, such as exploring location, patterns and problem solving.
An educator app and a families' app will further support preschoolers in the ELSA pilot sites as they learn about STEM.
The government is providing $4 million over four years from 2016–17 to The Smith Family to expand the Let's Count early years mathematics program. This funding will enable online delivery of the program, as well as a parent mobile app. Let's Count supports parents and early years educators to develop the maths skills of their kids, so that they start school ready to learn.
The government is providing $4 million over three years from 2016–17 to Froebel Australia Limited to extend the reach of the Little Scientists program. Little Scientists helps early learning educators to build their skills and confidence in understanding STEM ideas and concepts, so that they can lead fun and inquiry-based learning activities, using everyday materials with preschool children.
Early Learning STEM Research
The government engaged Victoria University in 2016 to look at the quality and range of STEM education apps available for early learning in preschools. Apps were assessed on how they met the learning outcomes as stated in the Early Years Learning Framework.
The research found that despite a large number of STEM apps being on the market, only a few are useful to educators to encourage STEM in early learning. This research has been used to inform the development of the ELSA apps.
The government has provided long-term support to the Australian Academy of Science for its successful Primary Connections program. More than 30 high-quality student and teacher resources aligned to the science component of the Australian Curriculum are freely available to primary school teachers and students, as well as professional learning to help teachers confidently teach science in their classrooms.
Science by Doing
With funding from the Australian Government, the Australian Academy of Science has developed 28 high-quality Science by Doing units and make them freely available to secondary teachers and students.
Science ASSIST advisory service
With funding from the government, the Australian Science Teachers Association has developed a national online advisory service for school science educators and technicians. Fact sheets, standard operating procedures, and an online advice service provides advice on school science laboratory safety and procedures.
Various STEM programs have been funded under the National Innovation and Science Agenda:
STEM programs in the schooling years
The University of Adelaide's Digital Technologies Massive Open Online Courses will improve digital technologies training for teachers and support the digital technologies component of the Australian Curriculum: Digital Technologies. Courses are available for teachers of Foundation to Year 10.
Teacher support for digital technologies
This initiative engages school leaders and supports the digital technologies component of the Australian Curriculum. The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) will provide face-to-face and online professional learning where it is needed most, with disadvantaged schools given priority.
STEM partnerships with schools
The STEM partnerships with schools will support flexible partnerships between STEM professionals and schools, to help students understand how STEM is applied in the real world. This initiative builds on the existing Scientists and Mathematicians in Schools program delivered by the CSIRO.
Digital Literacy School Grants
The Digital Literacy School Grants will provide competitive grants to support new ways of delivering digital literacy across the Australian Curriculum. A total of 54 schools across Australia were successful in the first round of grants. Successful applicants in the second round of grants will be announced either late 2017 or early 2018. About 100 projects are expected to be funded over 2016–18.
Online computing challenges
The Australian Digital Technologies Challenges for Years 5 and 7 are a series of structured activities and challenges run by teachers during class time.
Cracking the Code
Delivered by the University of Sydney, Cracking the Code will offer fun and engaging coding activities and challenges for Year 4 to Year 12 students. These fun, real-world activities will be available in late 2017 and a special week will be held in 2018.
'digIT' ICT summer schools
The Australian Mathematics Trust is delivering the digIT summer schools which will give Year 9 and Year 10 students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds the chance to attend a digital technology-based summer school, followed by five months of mentoring and a follow-up residential school.
The following three programs have been funded by Industry, Innovation and Competitiveness Agenda:
reSolve: Mathematics by inquiry
The Australian Academy of Science and Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers will develop classroom and professional learning resources for Foundation to Year 10 to help students learn mathematics in innovative and fun ways. These resources will be available free to all Australian teachers.
Coding across the Curriculum
Coding across the Curriculum will help introduce computer coding and computational thinking in schools. Education Services Australia is developing the Digital Technologies Hub, which provides quality assured learning resources and services for teachers, students, school leaders, and families.
Delivered by the Australian Mathematics Trust, Curious Minds is a summer school program aimed at increasing STEM participation among high-achieving female students in Year 9 and Year 10.
National STEM School Education Strategy 2016–2026
In 2015, all Australian education ministers agreed to the National STEM School Education Strategy 2016–2026, which focuses on foundation skills, developing mathematical, scientific and digital literacy, and promoting problem solving, critical analysis and creative thinking skills. The strategy aims to coordinate current activities, and improve STEM education.
A STEM Partnerships Forum was established with Dr Alan Finkel AO, Chief Scientist of Australia, as Chair, to support more efficient and effective partnerships between schools, industry, and the tertiary education sector, including:
- establishing best-practice partnerships
- increasing student involvement in effective school-based partnerships
- increasing industry involvement in effective school-based partnerships
- aligning initiatives
- raising awareness of the importance of STEM education
- improving careers advice on the importance and relevance of STEM skills
- supporting greater collaboration between industry and STEM teachers.
The first meeting was held 15 May 2017 with a Communique outlining discussions.
Forum members are now working through the three areas of focus—teacher professional development, careers awareness, and impact and outcomes.