When it comes to Australian classrooms, integrating science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) skills has become essential right across the curriculum.
But the size of Australia has always led to a situation of the haves and the have nots, and this is true for STEM education as well. Research led by Samsung Electronics Australia showed that 90% of respondents believed students in capital cities have greater opportunities to pursue careers in STEM compared to their regional counterparts
Even more worryingly, a solid majority of respondents thought the quality of STEM education (77%) and access to technology (76%) was lower in regional Australia compared to capital cities.
Without access to equal STEM learning experiences and resources, students from regional Australia are less likely to develop the skills required for the jobs of the future. Without those key skills in the workforce, Australia's economy is bound to suffer.
This isn't just idle speculation from economists and futurists. A paper from the Public Education Foundation found that growing educational inequality has cost Australia around AU$20.3 billion, equivalent to 1.2% of GDP, in just the six years from 2009-2015 alone.
Road to success
But there is a solution. Programs such as Questacon Smart Skills workshops and the Social Ventures Australia STEM Learning Hub, – supported by Samsung -- are taking tech on the road, bringing the world of STEM to communities across Australia.
Since 2014, Questacon and Samsung have partnered to inspire and engage teachers and students across Australia through their Smart Skills workshops. It's a program that's sparked some truly remarkable results. To date, the partnership has enabled the Smart Skills workshops to reach 30,000 students and 2,000 teachers from 400 schools across the country.
Students are challenged to use simple materials to prototype creative solutions to various problems. These challenges are engaging and wide-ranging, from constructing a virtual reality-inspired table-top rollercoaster to designing a landing platform for a drone.
Students can also find themselves playing with conductivity to create novel game controllers, or testing aerodynamics in vertical wind tunnels, which are all enhanced by the use of Samsung Technology as a tool to explore concepts or to test designs.
"Breaking barriers and enabling new experiences through technology is at the heart of the Samsung brand. Our Corporate Citizenship strategy aims to help students realise their potential and achieve their dreams," says Josh Grace, CMO at Samsung Electronics Australia.
"We can see that the landscape of work is changing rapidly, and the future will require different skills. Through our partnership with Questacon and SVA we want to provide innovative educational experiences that use technology to complement traditional classroom practices and enable the next generation of thinkers with the skills required for the future of work."
"The Smart Skills program was the start of my own STEM journey and the stimulus to become a Department of Education STEM Share Community Leader," said Tanya Riach. "The Smart Skills program inspired me to incorporate STEM challenges into my teaching practice. My lessons became less instructive-teacher centred directional learning and more creative which enhanced and recognised the potential of students that were previously disengaged in school."
"Technology is such a huge part of student's day to day lives that they often have skills far beyond the teachers scope of understanding. Students however need guidance in the best ways to use the technology to produce and use content rather than just consuming it. The Smart Skills program provides opportunities for technology to become a tool for learning, experimenting and collecting data."
"Technology also bridges many gaps. Gaps in distance, equity funding and experimental costs. It brings students closer to being on a level playing field in education as isolated students may not have the ability to visit or experience a museum or an environment in person but can through VR. They may not have the instruments to recreate an experiment but can model through simulations. It is the future of education so as educators we need to stay current with world trends to prepare our students for the world they will be released into."
Co-created by Samsung and SVA, the STEM Learning Hub was launched in 2017 and aims to bridge Australia's STEM skill gap by providing students and teachers from low socio-economic communities access to Samsung technology and resources that they would otherwise not have had access to. Since the commencement of the program, more than 21,000 students and 2,000 teachers have participated in the program.
As part of the STEM Learning Hub, students and teachers from Mount Burr Primary School, Nangwarry Primary School and Glencoe Central Primary School recently travelled to Sydney to see Vivid for the first time.
Lisa Scott is the coordinator at Mount Burr Primary School. She says that opportunities like this help students from regional areas see the fruits borne from STEM skilled artists and creators.
"Attending Vivid gave students the opportunity to consider STEM related careers and experience learning on a global scale," says Scott. "With the support of Samsung and SVA, students will learn how to use technology in a new context, allowing them to make connections with learning and their future aspirations."
The principal of Mount Burr, Anne-Marie Fitzgerald agrees: "Whilst we very much value the benefits of our small school and community we also understand the importance of providing our students with learning opportunities beyond our local area to broaden their experiences. The Samsung Vivid experience provides an exciting opportunity for our students to engage in purposeful learning beyond Mount Burr."
One of the experiences made available to the students during the trip was a chance to work with Sydney based photographer Rob Mullaly.
Mullaly demonstrated how STEM skills can even come into play in the world of professional photography and even smartphone photography.
Budding year 6 photographer Noah was particularly inspired: "I've already learned a lot from the workshop with Rob and I'm hoping to learn even more this week".
Noah sees high-tech photography skills as a way to share the plight of the world with a wider audience.
"I can't wait to take these skills back to class and share them," he says.