Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has put technical training at the centre of his pitch to be the next Prime Minister, promising to cancel the HECS debt of 100,000 science, technology, engineering and maths students.
All children would study computer science while still at school under a federal Labor government, so “every young Australian will have the chance to read, write and work with the global language of the digital age,” Mr Shorten promised in his official reply to the Abbott government’s budget released last week.
Labor would also train 25,000 science and technology graduates to teach in primary and secondary schools, and boost the technical skills of 25,000 existing teachers, in a bid to cut the high number of science, maths and IT classes being taken by teachers who didn’t study these subjects at university.
Mr Shorten noted that three in four new jobs in the fastest growing parts of the employment market needed technical skills.
“Yet right now, in our schools, TAFES and universities, there not enough people are acquiring these skills,” he said.
“Resource booms come and as we discover, they go – but our future depends on investing in our best natural resource: the creativity and skills of the Australian people.
“Digital technologies, computer science and coding – the language of computers and technology – should be taught in every primary and ever secondary school in Australia,” Mr Shorten said.
Teacher unions welcomed Labor’s plans to increase the number of specialist teachers in Australian schools, but warned they were no substitute for boosting overall funding to schools.
“It is positive that Labor has recognised the growing problem of shortages of specialist teachers and the fact that we need workforce planning to address this,” said Australian Education Union federal president Correna Haythorpe.
“The current situation where 40 per cent of Years 7 to 10 maths classes are taught by non-specialist teachers is not acceptable. But we need more than one-off policies to lift outcomes in Australian schools, we need a commitment to needs-based funding and putting extra resources into schools.”
University representatives also welcomed the focus on science, technology, engineering and maths, but are skeptical that Labor’s plans would ever be implemented.
“We know from bitter experience that when it comes to higher education and research funding, deckchairs are more than shuffled, they are hurled overboard,” said Universities Australia chief executive Belinda Robinson.
“Sadly, for nearly a decade, both sides of politics have promised more than they could ultimately deliver in funding higher education and research.”