Schools Plus gets $3m boost to close STEM gap in Australian classrooms

Schools Plus gets $3m boost to close STEM gap in Australian classrooms

A global technology leader and a national charity have announced a multimillion dollar bid to close the STEM gap in Australia's schools, strengthening a six-year relationship that's already seen significant investments in education for children from less advantaged backgrounds.

The $3m grant for Schools Plus by – the tech giant’s philanthropic arm – will be used to support Schools Plus’ work preparing around 10,000 Australian children with access to vital digital literacy skills, including innovative technologies such as responsible AI, and the critical thinking skills and dispositions for learning that are required for the 21st-century workplace.

As part of a broader goal to bridge the education divide, irrespective of background or postcode, the grant will also help boost teachers’ capabilities and confidence in STEM teaching practices and strengthen ties between schools, universities, and work environments.

“Over the past six years, Google has partnered with Schools Plus to build children’s digital skills and STEM career aspirations one school community at a time,” Google Australia CEO Melanie Silva told The Educator.

“We’ve been impressed by Schools Plus’ place-based and evidence-informed approach to working with schools, and the difference it’s made for students and teachers working in some of our less-advantaged communities. It’s been such a thrill to meet some of the students who now want to pursue STEM careers thanks to the initiatives we’ve supported through our partnership.”

Google’s recently launched its Digital Future Initiative, a five-year plan to invest in digital infrastructure and develop research capabilities to solve problems that are affecting Australians.

Silva said while the new grant for Schools Plus helps to expand the organisation’s work in developing the digital skills and mindsets that young people will need to tackle the challenges of the future.

“Over the next three years, it’s expected to equip about 10,000 children with the future-focused skills like critical thinking and collaboration, so they’ll be ready to jump into the STEM-related jobs our economy needs most.”

Schools Plus CEO Rosemary Conn said school leaders can capitalise on this new opportunity, particularly in terms of improving STEM education and narrowing the educational gap in disadvantaged areas across Australia.

“We are so excited about this partnership with Google’s philanthropic arm, because we know STEM education is a high priority for many schools to ensure children from all backgrounds are ready and able to positively contribute to the digital future that awaits them,” Conn told The Educator.

“Through this partnership, we will invite schools to work with us on targeted initiatives for up to three years that address their particular needs around STEM education and developing their students’ future-focused skills.”

Conn said this could include building schools’ teaching capacity through professional development and peer observation so their teachers feel confident about introducing technology or design thinking across key learning areas, or adding equipment such as robotics kits or 3D printers that can be used to build children’s skills in a hands-on, engaging way.

“We’re also keen to support schools that are trialling innovative ways to assess students’ skills, such as micro-credentials,” she said. “Schools will have the opportunity to submit their expressions of interest in August, when our next round opens.”