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Thursday, 4 December 1986
Page: 3457

(Question No. 1218)


Senator Archer asked the Minister representing the Minister for Science, upon notice, on 13 June 1986:

(1) What action is being taken to increase the participation in science-related subjects in Australian schools.

(2) What action is being taken to foster more positive public attitudes to science.


Senator Button —The Minister for Science has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

(1) I regard education, particularly science education, as a vital aspect of Australia's future development. A scientifically literate community and a pool of well-educated science graduates are essential if Australia is to hold its own as a modern industrialised nation.

Within my portfolio, the CSIRO has played a major role in promoting science-related subjects in schools. CSIRO has worked closely with the Australian Science Teachers Association, assisting with many of their activities such as the BHP Science Prize, Australian Science-In-Schools Week and the production of CSIROPRAC, a book of school science experiments from CSIRO scientists.

CSIRO has also maintained a close working relationship with State Education Departments. CSIRO Science Education Centres, for example, have been set up in Melbourne and Adelaide. These `hands-on' Centres have proved popular with visiting students and teachers, and new Centres are planned for other States in 1987.

The Education Centres are the focus for CSIRO's recently developed science club, Double Helix. The club aims to develop students' enthusiasm for science through special events, competitions and newsletters.

Another initiative is the CSIRO Women-In-Science Project. Its purpose is to encourage more girls to continue with maths and science at senior secondary level.

My colleague, the Minister for Education, has also taken a number of initiatives in this area, details of which are available from her office.

(2) A major initiative of this Government in fostering positive public attitudes to science has been the establishment of the Commission for the Future (CFF). Its first annual report, now tabled in the Parliament, gives an indication of the broad and comprehensive range of activities undertaken by the Commission in its first year of operation. These include:

publication of the Commission's bi-monthly magazine, In Future, which is distributed widely to members of State and Federal Parliaments, all secondary schools, unions, libraries, business and service organisations and a large and growing list of individuals;

a series of seminars for Parliamentarians in the Federal and State Governments;

a wide range of conferences and workshops examining the impact of technology on various facets of Australian public life.

The CSIRO also has taken action to foster more positive attitudes to science, recently undertaking a major review of its communication activities. This has added impetus to the Organisation's efforts to communicate effectively with industry and the community at large. Changes already made include the creation of the Bureau of Information and Public Communication. As part of the new Bureau, the Public Communication Unit has the specific role of fostering greater public interest in science.

CSIRO already produces a range of publications and video programs (some shown on ABC television) aimed at the public at large. Open days at CSIRO Divisions are a further means of reaching out to industry, and community groups and Divisional information officers are available to facilitate use of CSIRO expertise.

New public-comment guidelines were recently issued to encourage CSIRO staff to contribute more actively to debate on public issues involving science. This is in keeping with the Organisation's intention to adopt a higher public profile and to help develop more positive public attitudes to science.

In January 1986 the Government approved the establishment of the Science and Technology Centre in Canberra. The Centre's objective is to provide all Australians with a practical means of acquiring a better understanding and awareness of the role and application of science and technology in today's society. This will be achieved through the provision of specially designed `hands-on' exhibits and other educational programs. One of the most exciting and important features of the Centre will be its extensive travelling exhibition which will take exhibits and science `shows' to people throughout Australia, no matter whether they live in cities or in the outback.

The Centre will become the focal point for science and technology in Australia by:

providing a wide range of interactive exhibits in both the Centre and in its travelling component;

ensuring that the travelling exhibition visits a wide range of centres including outback areas from 1988 onwards;

disseminating information about science and technology and its impact on society;

conducting youth demonstration lectures along similar lines to the Royal Society in the United Kingdom;

promoting the establishment of similar centres throughout Australia; and

hosting workshops for staff from smaller institutions in Australia and overseas.