Turnbull sets aside AU$80m for senior digital literacy and women in STEM

If reelected on Saturday, the Coalition will invest AU$50 million to help improve senior Australians' digital literacy, alongside AU$192 million for mental health reforms, and AU$31.2 million to increase support for women in STEM fields.
Written by Jonathan Chadwick, Contributor

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced over the weekend a commitment of AU$50 million to improve both the digital literacy of senior Australians and their online safety.

Utilising existing community infrastructure such as libraries, retirement villages, community centres, CWA halls, and aged care facilities, the scheme will help senior Australians develop digital skills, and may also include small technology grants to purchase equipment like smart devices.

Turnbull highlighted that of the 4.8 million Australians aged 60 years and over, only around 20 percent of households have a smartphone, and attributed this to a lack of both confidence and knowledge in senior Australians.

The prime minister also announced over the weekend an investment of AU$31.2 million in internships and post-school career advice to increase support for women and girls to choose to study and work in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.

This will be made up of AU$28.2 million to help the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute expand its PhD internships to 1,400, with a particular focus on female researchers; and a further AU$3 million to create and develop a National Career Education Strategy to ensure that career advisors are employed in schools across the country.

"The program breaks down the silos that exist between employees, employers, and research by embedding PhD researchers in businesses to ensure they are honing the skills industry needs, and delivering real-world social and economic benefits for Australia," Turnbull said in a statement.

"A strong economy means we can fund our Innovation and Science Agenda to ensure our kids learn the digital skills of the 21st century, our research is commercialised to create jobs here at home, and investors support startup companies."

The prime minister recently announced ahead of the federal election that he wants to make maths and science compulsory for Australian students until they finish high school in a bid to increase the uptake of STEM subjects in the country.

"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."

The federal government pledged AU$48 million to improve STEM literacy, along with AU$51 million to help Australian students embrace the digital age and prepare for future jobs. The five-year cash injections formed part of the government's AU$1.1 billion National Innovation and Science Agenda.

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