Yesterday Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull unveiled the government’s $1.1 billion innovation package that will be rolled out over the next four years to promote business-based research, development and innovation.
Pleasingly, Australia’s falling maths and science participation is a key focus point in the government’s plan of attack.
STEM skills are increasingly important for the competitiveness of the Australian economy and it is troubling to learn that the number of students undertaking intermediate and advanced mathematics in secondary school fell by 34 per cent over the past 18 years. Additionally Australia’s performance in mathematics and science has stagnated over the past 16 years (AI Group, 2014).
According to the Global Innovation Index (2015), which gives countries a global ranking across a number of metrics, Australia is ranked #1 in the world for how many years kids typically spend at school. On the transverse, we are ranked at a measly #77 for people graduating from science and engineering degrees.
The issue here is clear. We must make the most of the time Australian students have in school to have them develop an appreciation of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects. To help make this shift, the government has announced a $48 million STEM literacy program.
Of even more concern is the participation of girls in STEM subjects with low enrolments in Year 11 and 12 mathematics and sciences and a 30 per cent undergraduate and post-graduate enrolment level.
In an encouraging push for female participation, the government has pledged $14 million to promote and encourage women and girls into the sector. On the 7.30 Report last night Turnbull said this would be done by “creating more awareness, highlighting more female role models and a lot of mentoring”.
It is great to see that the government recognises female participation in STEM as an issue, but there does not seem to be a definitive plan in place. It will be interesting to follow the movements of coordinators of these projects to see just how they put their ideas into place in the coming months. Let’s hope something is set in stone soon.
Lastly, $51 million will be spent on targeting coding activity in schools with measures including online computing challenges for Year 5 and 7 students, ICT summer schools for Years 9 and 10 annual ‘Cracking the Code’ national competition for years 4 to 12 and support for teachers to increase IT-related activity in the classroom.
With these measures, the Australian government has set up a solid foundation for the future direction of Australia’s innovation economy. It’s an exciting time and, I for one am excited to see where it all leads.
Dutta, S, Lanvin, B and Wunsch-Vincent S, (2015). The Global Innovation Index 2015: Effective Innovation Policies for Development. http://bit.ly/1QsfZkZ
The Australian Industry Group (2015). Progressing STEM Skills in Australia. http://bit.ly/1BNWRnh