​Turnbull kicks off AU$4m digital literacy school grants

The federal government has launched its 2016 Digital Literacy School Grants program to find projects that demonstrate new methods for enhancing digital literacy in schools.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

The Australian government is on the hunt for new ways of enhancing digital literacy in schools, kicking off a AU$4 million grant-based initiative.

The 2016 Digital Literacy School Grants program has been opened to schools Australia-wide with the funds to be used for delivering digital literacy programs to students in "engaging and innovative" ways.

Minister for Education and Training Simon Birmingham said the grants are also designed to support teachers to implement the digital technologies aspects of the national curriculum by providing guidance and support in both primary and secondary schools.

"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," he said. "We need all children to be digitally literate to ensure they are ready for a future full of technology."

In December, the federal government pledged AU$48 million to improve the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) literacy of students in Australia, along with a AU$51 million commitment to assist Australian teachers and students to embrace the digital age.

The AU$4 million 2016 Digital Literacy School Grants will be funded by the AU$51 million 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.

"Sparking an interest in these subjects at an early age is the best way to ensure we increase the number of students taking up science, technology, engineering, and mathematics subjects to set them up for success after they leave school," Birmingham added.

Teachers will also receive assistance with access to online support for preparing digital technology-based curriculum activities.

The five-year cash injections formed part of the government's AU$1.1 billion National Innovation and Science Agenda.

As previously highlighted by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia, the world is facing a global skills shortage. Infosys also reported earlier this year that young Australians were 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 whilst they are highly aware of the need to learn new skills, Australians are also the least interested in improving their STEM knowledge.

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

Speaking last month in Sydney, Rob Hillard, managing partner at Deloitte Consulting, said the issue Australia is currently facing when it comes to preparing for the "workforce of the future" is the ambiguity around what those jobs will actually be.

"The problem is we're dealing with tremendous ambiguity and ambiguity creates uncertainty in the minds of students and is absolutely a turn off to people going through STEM pathways and finding these jobs of the future," he said. "And that creates a huge amount of fear for students today."

He did say however, that Australia's workforce does not need any more job ready graduates, rather those that are "future ready".

"Graduates who are capable of learning, because the jobs those graduates will be doing, even just a couple of years into their careers, have not been invented yet," Hillard said.

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