AU$6m preschool STEM program tenders open

The Department of Education and Training has kicked off the search for an organisation to implement its AU$6 million Australia-wide early learning science, technology, engineering, and mathematics initiative.

The Australian Department of Education and Training has gone to tender to find an organisation to deploy its Early Learning STEM Australia (ELSA) pilot program.

According to the federal government, the AU$6 million ELSA initiative supports its "Inspiring STEM Literacy" measure, which seeks to increase the participation of Australian children in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education and improve their digital literacy.

The ELSA pilot program is expected to provide the opportunity for young children to explore an online, play-based learning environment, which the government wants delivered through a series of mobile applications for tablet devices that are heavily STEM-based and will be used by preschool programs across the country.

According to the request for tender, it is anticipated that ELSA will provide meaningful opportunities to drum into preschoolers and their educators the importance of STEM at a young age.

The pilot program will run for a three-year term from 2016-17 to 2018-19, and delivery of the program is slated for 100 preschool services in 2018.

Among other contract obligations, the successful organisation is expected to provide a promotion and communication strategy, which involves a public-facing website and a national communications approach to promoting STEM in early learning services that aligns with existing government advertisements.

The ELSA initiative builds on the Early Learning Languages Australia (ELLA) trial in 2015, which was conducted in 41 preschool services and considered the effectiveness of seven play-based language learning apps in providing children with exposure to a language other than English.

ELSA was announced in December and forms part of the government's AU$1.1 billion National Science and Innovation Agenda.

When handing down the agenda, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull split it into four key areas, of which Talent and Skills was allocated a AU$110 million investment.

With the slogan "Best and Brightest", the Talent and Skills umbrella focuses on four measures: Equipping young Australians to create and use digital technologies; expanding opportunities for women in STEM; improving visa arrangements; and inspiring STEM literacy.

In February, Turnbull also announced an AU$8 million initiative that he hopes will give 350,000 preschool children "a head start" in their careers.

The funding is slated for Little Scientists, a not-for-profit initiative of FROEBEL Australia and the Smith Family's Let's Count program, which will both receive AU$4 million to target children aged three to six years old to build their curiosity for STEM.

At the time, Turnbull said both programs hope to provide young students with a new way of engaging with STEM subjects, which will help underpin Australia's competitiveness in the future.

"Of our 600,000 workers in ICT, more than half work outside the traditional ICT sector," Turnbull said previously. "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."

StartupAus, Australia's startup advocacy group, said in November that it wants to boost the country's innovation ecosystem by introducing a "Lemonade Day" to primary school students in an initiative that would see children own and operate their own venture by way of a lemonade stand.

The initiative came out of the federal government's now-canned Policy Hack, which outlined solutions such as the lemonade stand initiative, saying it would boost Australia's innovation economy.