Turnbull wants compulsory maths and science to make a return

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull believes in order to boost Australia's STEM literacy levels, maths and science needs to be made compulsory for students until they finish high school.
Written by Aimee Chanthadavong, Contributor

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull wants to make maths and science compulsory until they finish high school in a bid to increase the uptake of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects in the country.

"This is a big priority," he said on Monday.

"It's one of the areas we've gone backwards actually. In my generation you had to do maths or science to complete high school. Many parts of Australia now, you don't have to do that. We've got to get back to that and ensure that everyone is very literate in those STEM subjects. Science, maths, technology -- that's the future."

At the end of last year, 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 AU$51 million will specifically go towards 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.

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.

In addition, the Department of Education and Training went to tender last month to find an organisation to deploy its AU$6 million Early Learning STEM Australia (ELSA) pilot program, which supports its "inspiring STEM literacy" measure.

The ELSA pilot program aims 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.

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

Boosting STEM literacy has long been on the agenda for Turnbull, even before he was prime minister.

"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."

A report by Australia's Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel recently revealed that approximately only 10 percent of Australians are STEM qualified. Of the STEM-qualified population, approximately two thirds held Vocational Education and Training (VET) qualifications, while one third were higher education graduates with bachelor degrees or higher, the report stated.

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