Addressing Australia’s shortfall of STEM university graduates may be difficult in the short term, but the Government is working towards the future, this week announcing $8 million in funding for two early childhood programs it hopes will “inspire Australia’s next Howard Florey or Elizabeth Blackburn.”
The Little Scientists program, which runs workshops to help educators develop age-appropriate, playful experiments for 3 to 6 year olds, and Let’s Count, a mathematics program developed by The Smith Family for kids aged 3 to 5, will each receive $4 million in funding. The programs will reach 350,000 children around Australia.
Sibylle Seidler, project manager at Little Scientists, said she was “thrilled” with the news, with the funding set to open up a wealth of new opportunities for children and educators.
Little Scientists, a non-profit initiative, was first developed in Germany and launched in Australia in three years ago with the support of Froebel Australia and Germany’s Little Scientists Houses Foundation.
The organisation works through the train the trainer model, building network partnerships with early education and care service providers. Little Scientists runs workshops for representatives of these providers, looking to spark their interest in STEM and encourage them to implement their ideas and concepts developed in the workshops into their work with the children in their care.
“In the last three years we’ve worked really hard at finding acceptance for the program here in Australia. We’ve worked with the government and showcased how it can impact kids here,” Seidler said.
She said the last three years have been an interesting journey, with the funding announcement a case of being the right people at the right time.
“It’s been a long growth process in terms of having STEM education recognised in the early years. When we talk about education in Australia, until recently – and still now in so many ways – you start talking about primary school, when kids enter formal schooling. It’s not been widely accepted that education actually starts earlier, and that little kids have a love for learning,” Seidler explained.
“That’s where we come in; you need to really harness that and nurture it and if you do that well, you can carry that through into primary and secondary schooling and counteract the shortfall of people taking STEM subjects in the later years. It’s only in the last year that it’s really come to the forefront, with the government putting the focus on science and innovation. That’s been the catalyst.”
With this funding announcement just the latest in a line aimed at getting children to think about science and technology, our universities may be bursting with STEM students in two decades’ time. As well as the Government’s initiatives, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten announced last year that Labor will be committing $4.5 million in funding to organisations such as Code Club Australia and Code Like A Girl to help get more young girls into tech if it wins government in this year’s election.
Image: A Little Scientists workshop. Source: Little Scientists.