​Robots to join Victorian schools under AU$1.6m grants program

The state government hopes its Digi-Tech Start-Up Grants initiative will encourage students to head down the IT career path.

The Victorian government has announced that it will be giving schools in the state robots, as well as grants to buy equipment such as virtual reality (VR) goggles and 3D printers, in a bid to get students engaged in technology.

With a AU$1.6 million kitty, the Digi-Tech Start-Up Grants initiative is aimed at pushing kids towards a career in technology, using emerging and fun devices to equip them for the jobs of the future and to tackle the skills shortage the IT sector is predicted to soon face.

"We want to make sure that our schools have the best facilities and equipment to give our kids the best chance to succeed," Minister for Education James Merlino said in a statement on Friday.

"This funding will give more students the ability to learn hands-on with new technology and prepare them for the jobs of the future."

150 secondary schools will be allocated two robots each and provided with grants to buy specialised equipment such as digital microscopes, laser cutters, 3D printers, and VR goggles.

The initiative will be delivered in partnership with Digital Learning and Teaching Victoria, who will also provide professional development to teachers to build their science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)-related programs.

As previously highlighted by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia, the world is facing a global skills shortage. Infosys has also reported that young Australians are ill-prepared for the digital economy that stands before them.

Infosys found that young Australians were the least confident of their technical abilities and job prospects, and while they are highly aware of the need to learn new skills, Australians are also the least interested in improving their knowledge in STEM-related fields.

Less than one-fifth wanted to develop data skills, build mobile apps, or learn how to code; even fewer, or 3.41 percent, had a desire to work for a startup over a large company.

To tackle the skills shortage on a nation-wide level, the federal government pledged AU$48 million to improve the STEM literacy of students in Australia, along with a AU$51 million commitment to assist Australian teachers and students to embrace the digital age, as part of its AU$1.1 billion National Innovation and Science Agenda.

The government began its search for new ways of enhancing digital literacy in children in September, opening its AU$4 million Digital Literacy School Grants program to schools Australia-wide with the funds to be used for delivering digital literacy programs to students in "engaging and innovative" ways.

"Schools need to think creatively about how they teach digital literacy to ensure that students don't fall behind or find it difficult to engage," Minister for Education and Training Simon Birmingham said at the time. "We need all children to be digitally literate to ensure they are ready for a future full of technology."

The AU$4 million 2016 Digital Literacy School Grants will be funded by the AU$51 million teacher commitment kitty, with other initiatives under the banner including the formation of IT summer schools for students in years 9 and 10; an annual "cracking the code" competition for those in year 4 through 12; and online computing challenges for year 5 and year 7 students.

It also includes AU$4 million over four-years to fund the setup of dedicated workspaces for children across the country to learn STEM skills.

The Maker Project will issue grants to eligible Australian schools and community organisations to help set up dedicated "maker spaces" that offer students hands-on experience in practical aspects of design, technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship, as well as STEM engagement activities.

It is expected that the initiative will offer grants of between AU$2,000 and AU$5,000 to cover the costs of tools, equipment, software, and consumables needed to establish spaces that the government said will be required to encourage experimentation and "tinkering" in a supervised and accessible environment.

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