Bill Shorten’s STEM policy wins startup support: “The best thing we’ve heard from either party in 20 years” – StartupSmart

Labor leader Bill Shorten has unveiled his party’s STEM (science, technology, education and maths) education policy as a key focus of his budget reply speech, with one leading startup investor calling the policy “the best thing we’ve heard from either party in 20 years”.


Labor’s Futuresmart policy aims to have coding taught in every Australian every primary and secondary school by 2020. In order to accomplish this, Labor will provide additional training in STEM disciplines to 25,000 existing teachers at a rate of 5000 per year.


It will also encourage an additional 25,000 STEM students to become teachers by paying them $5000 to take up a teaching degree, and a further $10,000 after their first year in the classroom.


The policy will also write off the HECS debt of 100,000 STEM students, and encourage more women and minorities to study, teach and work in tech-related fields.


Other parts of the proposal include investing $9 million in creating a National Coding in Schools centre (NCIS) to support the teaching of coding in schools, and boosting R&D spending to 3% of GDP.



“Nothing matters more to Labor than securing the jobs of the future… And the new jobs of the future require new skills. Designing skills, coding skills – building, refining, adapting and servicing the machines and supply chains of a new age,” Shorten said.


“Yet today, two out of every five science and maths teachers for years 7 to 10, don’t have a degree in these subjects.


“Digital technologies, computer science and coding – the language of computers and technology – should be taught in every primary and ever secondary school in Australia. And a Shorten Labor Government will make this a national priority.


“We should aspire, together: universities, industry, the people and the Parliament to devote 3% of our GDP to research and development by the end of the next decade.”


99designs founding investor Leni Mayo says while there’s not enough detail to discuss the specifics of how the plan will be implemented, the policy is “well thought out” overall.


“This is the best thing we’ve heard from either party in 20 years. This is a root-and-branch attempt to address the issues inhibiting Australia from tackling the best the world has to offer in terms of technology and innovation,” Mayo says.


“At a high level the policy is coherent. More focus on STEM subjects in university and HECS relief are credible mechanisms for getting more trained STEM teachers into our schools,” he says.



Startup Victoria interim chief executive and Attendly co-founder Scott Handsaker also backs the STEM proposal.


“So many people have been calling for computer coding to be added to the national curriculum over the years that it is amazing to finally hear a politician call for it to be rolled out. The future workplace is going to be so different to what we are used to that it is critical we start preparing our kids for an era powered by technology,” Handsaker says.


“The policy of writing off the HECS debts for 100,000 students who complete a degree in a STEM based University course is a fantastic initiative. STEM skills are required for the jobs of the future and we are not producing anywhere near enough qualified students to meet ongoing demand.  To then encourage a portion of those graduates to go on and complete a teaching degree is cleverly structured and a super policy.


“Big thumbs up from Startup Victoria.”


A spokesperson for the Australian Computer Society told StartupSmart coding and computational thinking “are an absolute necessity if we are to give our children the best possible chance to become the leaders of the workforce of the future”.


“ACS has long called for mandated teaching of coding and computational thinking,” the spokesperson says.


“It is no secret that Australia’s economic future is in the knowledge and service space, so seeing these initiatives brought to the fore is something we strongly support. Schools in the UK are already teaching coding from the age of five, and if Australia does not get on board we will be left behind.


“Looking at the UK implementation, the UK Government engaged the British Computer Society and others in the ICT industry to assist in teacher training. We – and the industry more widely – stand ready to assist the Government in the training of teachers and believe that, while this is certainly an ambitious goal, it is an achievable one with the right funding and policy framework and importantly commitment in place. It should be clear though that the training needs to be of a high standard, and cannot simply be seen as a crash course in technology. We need to produce teachers who can be genuinely passionate about technology education, and pass that on to their students.


“We believe that the time for talking is past. If we are to give our students the very best shot at being the digital leaders of the future, we need to start a program of coding and computational thinking now. It simply cannot wait until 2017. This represents a great chance for the Government, business and community to come together and build the digital workforce of the future.”


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