​Australian government expands STEM school-business partnerships

An extra 12 schools around the country will get to trial the Pathways in Technology Early College High School program, after a AU$4.6 million funding boost from the federal government.

Australian students will be partnered with rising stars of business to inspire them to boost their mathematics and science results.

An extra 12 schools around the country will get to trial the program known as Pathways in Technology Early College High School, or P-TECH, after a AU$4.6 million funding boost from the federal government.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Monday met students at McCarthy Catholic College in Emu Plains, Western Sydney, who will be partnered with young PwC employees.

"There will be kids that are not particularly inspired by their studies -- they're smart kids, they're hard-working kids, but it doesn't seem terribly relevant to them at age 15," he said.

"And then they meet ... a young person from PwC who talks about their story, what they studied, and suddenly a light goes on and that 15-year-old boy or girl is inspired."

The program is designed to deliver better results in maths and science subjects, and give students skills that employers want.

The initial P-TECH trial was announced by former Prime Minister Tony Abbott in 2014, who was enthusiastic after seeing a similar program in action in the United States.

Nearly a year later, in August 2015, Abbott announced that two schools in Geelong and Ballarat would be the first guinea pigs.

Turnbull's extra commitment will expand it to a dozen more schools.

In February, the prime minister committed AU$8 million to help children aged three to six gain skills in STEM to encourage interest in pursuing careers in those sectors.

The funds will be evenly shared between Little Scientists, a not-for-profit initiative of FROEBEL Australia; and the Smith Family's Let's Count program. It will build on the AU$6 million already committed for the development of apps to engage children in STEM in their early years.

This was part of the federal government's AU$1.1 billion National Science and Innovation Agenda announced at the end of last year, where more than AU$110 million will be invested to equip young Australians with STEM and digital technology skills over the next five years.

Specifically, AU$51 million will be used to help students in Australia embrace the digital age and prepare for the jobs of the future, along with AU$48 million to inspire STEM literacy, and AU$13 million to encourage women to take up roles in the STEM sector.

More recently, the Australian Department of Education and Training went to tender to find two separate organisations to deploy its Early Learning STEM Australia (ELSA) pilot program and its IT summer school initiative. Both were announced as part of the innovation agenda aimed to encourage greater STEM uptake by students.

"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."

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has previously made similar remarks, highlighting the importance of STEM education. He pledged a total of AU$2.5 billion for future jobs, with a focus on STEM, as well as a AU$17.8 million startup initiative he hopes will drive a new generation of innovators, risk-takers, and wealth-creators.

With AAP