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Tuesday, 14 February 2017
Page: 1025

Ms CLAYDON (Newcastle) (16:18): Last Saturday I was really fortunate to be able to attend an important celebration with the KU preschool community in Mayfield. It was a celebration to mark the official certification of the KU preschool at Mayfield as a Little Scientists House. Little Scientists is a wonderful professional development initiative delivered by the University of Newcastle's SMART Program. It trains early childhood educators, including four educators from the KU preschool at Mayfield, in ways to best incorporate science, technology, engineering and maths—or the STEM subjects—into play-based learning at preschool in order to really ignite that love for science and STEM subjects at an early age.

Childhood is, of course, the perfect time to foster a love for STEM, as kids are already natural scientists. They are curious. They are full of questions, and they are wonderfully unshackled by preconceptions. Through the program, KU kids are encouraged to follow their interests and to turn them into real-life investigations—for example, an interest in bugs can be examined by measuring them, putting them under the microscope, or learning more about them through research on the iPad. Not only are kids at KU realising that science is fun; their self-perception also changes as they start to see themselves as being good at science.

This is important because we know that in the future Australia is going to need all the scientists it can get. In fact, employment and STEM occupations are predicated to grow at twice the rate of other occupations, and the Australian Industry Group has warned that the shortage of STEM graduates will be a major challenge for businesses. It is clear that we must prepare our children for this future. The Little Scientists who build a love for STEM early on are much more likely to consider taking these sorts of subjects at school and might even continue this passion into university degrees and career choices.

I am particularly interested in how this sort of program can help turn around the underrepresentation of women in STEM courses and STEM careers. It is particularly shocking. The 2015 OECD report showed that fewer than one in 20 girls from OECD countries considered going on into STEM careers. It also found, notwithstanding similar capabilities in maths and science with boys, that a quarter of girls drop out of science in the final years of high school. So there is no doubt that early exposure and increased self-confidence has the capacity to make a big difference.

I am so pleased that programs like Little Scientists will be able to reach young girls, to show them that science is not daunting and that, in fact, it can be lots of fun. Congratulations to KU Mayfield Preschool and your partnership with Little Scientists and the University of Newcastle's SMART program for fostering the STEM stars of the future. (Time expired)