All Aussie schools to get free access to cutting-edge program

All Aussie schools to get free access to cutting-edge program

All Australian schools will get free access to a cutting-edge online program helping to encourage more young Australians into IT careers.

The announcement follows the signing of a five-year partnership between ed-tech companies WiseTech Global and Grok Academy, an educator-led program that teachers programming to young people.

The latest National Skills Commission report shows occupation shortages have doubled in 2022. In the tech sector alone, it is forecast that more than half a million new jobs will need to be created by 2030 in order to fill anticipated shortages in this critical industry.

The technology sector currently contributes about $167bn to the Australian economy, which is around 6.6% of GDP. By 2030, that contribution is expected to grow to about $207bn per year, with the right policy settings and digital skills training.

Building a strong pipeline of tech talent

Starting in FY22 with a contribution of over AUD$2.5m, WiseTech Global’s funds will initially be used to make the Grok Academy online platform and classroom resources available free of charge to all K-12 students, teachers and parents across Australia. The Grok / WiseTech road map will include developing new Digital Technologies and Digital Literacy teaching resources.

These initiatives are in addition to WiseTech continuing its existing support of outreach programs that encourage students to build deeper skills such as Grok’s annual National Computer Science School Challenge.

“We have a fantastic opportunity to reach into schools and help students learn valuable skills and understand the strong professional and economic drivers of a career in technology,” Richard White, CEO and Founder, WiseTech Global, said.

“Australia needs to build a strong pipeline of talented people to shape our technology future or we will lose this opportunity.”

White said accessible education for all Australian school students starting early and “creating curiosity and agile minds that make the world better through technology”, will be “a powerful long-term driver” of the economy as well as a long-term solution to the current technology skills shortage.

“By taking a deep, grass roots approach we want to ensure all students, regardless of gender, economic circumstance or geography, have a positive technology experience at an early age, inspiring more students to embark on further technology studies and careers,” he said.

“We’re passionate about this and we’re taking positive action by working with Grok Academy.”

Breaking down gender stereotypes

The Tech Council of Australia forecast that Australia will need to employ an additional 653,000 tech workers by the end of the decade, at a time when vacancy rates in tech are 60% higher than the national average and tech jobs are forecast to grow at triple the rate. 

“Early exposure to the exciting and creative world of digital technology skills is critical. We know that what students experience in primary school and in the early high school years strongly influences what they elect to study later in high school,” White said.

“It’s also the time to dispel social myths about what’s appropriate for girls to study, so that they don’t self-select out of technology subjects.”

He pointed to research showing that while more girls than boys go on to tertiary studies, 73% of students studying in the STEM field are male. Ultimately, this means Australian businesses are missing out on a huge chunk of the potential talent pool of locally grown tech professionals.

White says the technology sector, which includes tech jobs across a wide range of industries, provides “amazing career opportunities” for young people.

“Not only does it offer better job security, flexibility and diversity, it also gives people the opportunity to use creative thinking to solve real-world problems and to create an important part of the future,” White said.

‘We can do more’

A recent study revealed only 26% to 50% of Australian primary school teachers and 52% to 69% of high school teachers considered themselves proficient at teaching computer education.

James Curran, CEO of Grok Academy, said teachers are being asked to teach skills that many of them did not learn themselves in school.

“Our aim is to help teachers by providing a range of classroom-ready online courses, competitions and activities that are all aligned to the Australian Curriculum: Digital Technologies,” Curran said.

“Our programmes are designed to guide students to develop practical computational thinking skills and are developed by qualified classroom teachers with hands-on experience of the challenges facing many teachers today.”

Curran said that while the company is proud that approximately 25,000 students and teachers take part in Grok’s National Computer Science School Challenge each year, it’s just a small proportion of the total 4 million primary and secondary students in Australia.

“We can do more,” he said.

“WiseTech’s generous contribution removes the barrier of cost to participate in our programmes, enabling more kids from economically disadvantaged backgrounds access. It’s a fantastic initiative and we hope that many more schools and teachers across the nation will be able to make use of these tools to help their students consider IT careers.”

‘A real Australian success story’

The Minister for Industry and Science, the Hon. Ed Husic MP, welcomed WiseTech’s announcement, saying it is vital Australia has the skills base for the jobs of the future.

“I can think of no better way to kick-start this than for all school kids having free access to one of the best online coding classrooms around,” Husic said.

“The Albanese Government wants Australia to hit 1.2 million tech-related jobs by 2030. To reach that target, we are going to need a lot of young Australians on board from an early age to build those skills and see the creative side that they can offer.”

Husic called Grok Academy is a “real Australian success story”.

“It’s great to see Australian companies supporting each other in the tech space.”

‘A win for education and Australia’

Ben Davies, head of Digital and Design Technology at Bowen State High School in Queensland, said Grok Academy’s program is “fun, challenging and easy to use”.

“Grok provides students and teachers an engaging interface that provides opportunity for both explicit and independent practice,” Davies said.

“Having this resource become free to all Australian students is a win for education and Australia. For me it means we get to spend more on hardware to further stimulate the entrepreneurial spirit of our students as they develop 21st Century skills and learn to solve the problems of tomorrow.”

Georgie Buenfeld, Learning Area Leader of Digital Technologies at Pulteney Grammar School in South Australia, said the news that the program will now be free “made her day”.

“There are so many more options available to all year levels now we are not constrained by price. While Grok is not a replacement for good teaching, it allows me to individualise programs and support and extend as required! This is brilliant news.”