Industry-School Partnerships in Action
29 January 2013 at 10:15 am
Some of Australia's leading companies and research centres are partnering with state high schools to help reverse declining student enrolments in maths and science subjects.
Under a program devised by the nonprofit organisation, Schools Connect Australia, businesses and university research centres are matched with schools.
Each industry partner works with the school’s teachers and students, showing how advances in maths and science technology are used in their workplaces.
Schools Connect Australia created the Inspired By Industry program after it was commissioned by the Victorian government to find innovative ways to boost the study of maths and science in the state’s government schools.
Companies and research centres that have established school partnerships under the program include IBM Australia, EnergyAustralia, HJ Heinz Company Australia, the Bionics Institute and Monash University.
“Global demand for maths science graduates is growing and Australia’s future prosperity depends on scientific and technological innovation,” Ms Annemarie Rolls, Schools Connect’s chief executive officer said. “Yet there’s been a well documented decline in the numbers of Australian students studying maths and science subjects at senior secondary school level.”
“Research tells us teacher quality is the most important ‘in-school’ influence on student achievement. These partnerships are helping to nurture great teaching and excite student interest in maths and science.”
Schools Connect Australia also investigated the extent of community-school partnerships as part of its work for the Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. It found:
· Government schools were keen to partner with outside experts in maths and science but lacked the skills, time, knowledge and confidence to do so.
· Only three per cent of existing school-community partnerships in government schools focused on the teaching of science and two per cent focused on maths.
A school in Melbourne’s northern suburbs, Alkira Secondary College in Cranbourne, is one of the schools involved in the Inspired By Industry program. Engineers, economists and mathematicians from its industry partner, EnergyAustralia, are giving the school’s students a close look at maths and science careers in action.
The EnergyAustralia staff are working with teachers helping to design a curriculum topic on how electricity is produced.
“If we can make maths and science more interesting by showing how it applies in the real world, then we’re giving students greater opportunities and options for career paths, some of which they may never have thought of,” Con Hristodoulidis, EnergyAustralia’s Head of Sustainability said.
Mrs Odile Oliver, the assistant principal of Alkira Secondary College, said the program was lifting student aspirations about future job choices.
“It brings an authenticity to student learning so that students can see where their learning can take them,” she said.
In another partnership, IBM Australia is collaborating with teachers from Keysborough Secondary College, to help students explore how apps are created.
The company is also sharing its expertise with Alkira Secondary College, showing teachers and students how cities use data analysis to create better traffic flows and road safety.
“The industry partnerships enable maths and science teachers to update their knowledge and gain new ideas and inspiration to enrich their teaching, “ Ms Rolls said. “Meanwhile businesses are building a smarter future workforce by sharing their expertise with schools.”
Schools Connect Australia co-designs the partnership between each school and its industry partner, with a built–in evaluation process to enable the partners to test whether their goals are being met. It liaises with each school to recruit suitable teachers and organises time release for teachers to work with their industry partner.
This year (2013) it plans to expand its Inspired By Industry maths science program as well as creating industry partnerships in other curriculum areas such as literacy and the arts.
Schools Connect Australia, formerly known as the Business Working With Education Foundation, was established in 2010. It matches businesses, philanthropic or higher education groups with government schools, where most children from disadvantaged backgrounds are educated.
The community partners help build school capacity and student learning by providing mentoring, scholarships, work experience and other types of voluntary expertise to schools. The organisation is the first of its kind in Australia.
Its plan to encourage more industry school partnerships is occurring amid growing concern from industry leaders about Australia’s skills shortages and the need to improve student achievement.
Caroline Milburn is a freelance journalist.