Australian Minister for Communications Malcolm Turnbull has admitted that the education sector has gone backwards, revealing that the number of students taking up science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) learning has dropped significantly.
"Of our 600,000 workers in ICT, more than half work outside the traditional ICT sector. 75 percent of the fastest-growing occupations require STEM skills, but only half of year 12 students are studying science; that's down from 94 percent 20 years ago. That is really a retrograde development, and we have to turn that around," he said.
Addressing nearly 800 high school students in Sydney on Friday as part of the Microsoft-led WeSpeakCode initiative, Turnbull said the solution to encourage more students to take a greater interest in STEM education lies in coding, the "language of the 21st century". He believes that coding should be considered a fundamental skill.
"If we want to succeed, and continue to succeed as a prosperous first-world economy ... we need to be leaner, faster, more imaginative, more innovative, more technologically sophisticated, and the key tool for that is coding," he said.
Despite Turnbull's encouragement, the 2015 Budget announced on Tuesday portrays a different stance from the federal government on STEM learning. While the Budget increased support for startups through tax cuts and red tape reduction, specific details of how the federal government is going to further encourage STEM education was not mentioned.
CEO and founder of Australian startup Local Measure Jonathan Barouch commented that while the 2015 Budget was a good starting point for startups, more conversation needs to be held on STEM education.
From the opposition benches, Labor leader Bill Shorten pledged that if he becomes prime minister, Labor would wipe the university debts for 100,000 STEM students. Additionally, Labor would also boost the skills of 10,000 current primary and secondary school teachers, as well as train 25,000 science and technology graduates as teachers.
"Coding is the literacy of the 21st century, and under Labor, every young Australian will have a chance to read, write, and work with the global language of the digital age," Shorten said.
"Digital technologies, computer science, and coding, the language of computers and technology, should be taught in every primary and every secondary school in Australia, and a Shorten Labor government will make this a national priority. We will work with the states and territories and the national curriculum authority to make this happen."