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Monday, 19 October 2015
Page: 11508


Mr TAYLOR (Hume) (11:20): To think scientifically and to think mathematically opens us up to solving some of the world's greatest problems. Having more and more people who are able to think that way is crucially important for the future of this country and, indeed, for the future of the globe. I was lucky enough to have great science and maths teachers through my schooling. I learnt to think mathematically and scientifically. My undergraduate and postgraduate degrees were in economics and econometrics, and applied maths was absolutely essential to that work and to my thesis. During that time, it was absolutely imprinted on my mind that precise scientific and mathematical thinking, forming hypotheses and theories and testing those hypotheses, is a wonderful thing and, frankly, the world does not have enough of it, and I worry deeply that our kids are not getting enough of it. There is no doubt that we are behind where we should be in science and maths. We are falling down in the international rankings. To correct the previous speaker, I note that much of that falling down in the rankings occurred under the last Labor government. But, wherever it came from, we are falling down in the rankings and, whilst we can question how they are tested, there is no doubt that other countries are getting ahead.

I was privileged recently to launch in Canberra, on behalf of the Minister for Education and Training, Simon Birmingham, the National Intensive Program. This was an intensive workshop and training week held in the school holidays to mentor science and maths teachers from across Australia. It is part of the National Mentoring for Science and Maths Teachers project, led by the University of Canberra. By complete coincide one of the project coordinators at UC is the sister of the man who was my greatest mentor when I worked in the private sector. In July 2014, this mentoring project was awarded $1.4 million under the Australian Maths and Science Partnerships Program, which aims to improve student outcomes in maths and science by collaboration between schools and universities.

Making science and maths more accessible and meaningful to students is an absolute national imperative. Our productivity and international competitiveness rests upon our ability to innovate, through the fields of science and maths. A focus on STEM education has never been more important.

There has been a significant decline in students studying STEM at Year 12 and tertiary levels. That has been occurring for quite some time. Australian school students' performance in STEM subjects, measured by the OECD's Program for International Student Assessment, is declining. Australia's Chief Scientist has noted that participation in STEM subjects in Australian schools is at its lowest level in 20 years. When it is also estimated that 75 per cent of jobs in the fastest-growing industries require skilled workers in STEM subjects, this could be a lost opportunity for our young people and for our nation. If these trends continue, Australia's capacity to develop a high-technology, high-productivity economy will be severely limited.

The government, working together with the states and territories, is developing a long-term national strategy for STEM in schools, including programs to support our teachers and students across schools. The National Mentoring for Science and Maths Teachers project, which I just talked about, is one of 22 projects funded by the federal government under the Australian Maths and Science Partnerships Program.

Teachers at the intensive program came to Canberra from as far away as WA and the Kimberley and from as close as Mulwaree High School, at Goulburn, my hometown. They had the chance to be mentored in maths and science teaching and to learn through specially designed workshops. Judging by the level of energy and interest from participants, I know they will have taken every opportunity to expand their teaching repertoire. By building teacher confidence and enjoyment in maths and science, teachers in turn can inspire a passion for STEM subjects in their students.

I have four kids. They have been educated at a range of schools, and I, too, have been privileged to have a very good education. I cannot tell you how significant an impact great teachers have had for my kids and in my life. It is gold to have an inspiring teacher who is also able to mentor you in an area of particular interest.

STEM is a national agenda. In my own electorate I am looking forward to introducing new STEM awards for selected schools, and I hope to be able to kick-start those awards at the end of this school year. This government is committed to STEM and we will deliver.