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UoW’s Science Space providing virtual excursions

Image Credits: The University of Wollongong, Press Release

A remote-learning program developed by the University of Wollongong’s Science Space for New South Wales schools during their COVID-19 lockdown has been extended to schools in Victoria, where the response has been enthusiastic. With students in Victoria under lockdown again, the take-up from schools in that state has snowballed over the past few weeks.

The program began in March this year to help engage students learning remotely from home, offering free livestreams of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) learning sessions. With support from South32, this soon developed into a blended learning package called Takeaway STEM that includes physical activity materials, worksheets, videos and live virtual classroom learning support for students.

Science Space also launched a suite of live science shows – virtual excursions – delivered directly to remote classrooms via Livestream, as well as Australia’s first Livestream Planetarium shows.

The Director of Science Space stated that when schools were forced to go into remote learning and excursions cancelled for the foreseeable future, the team noticed many teachers desperate for something to fill the gap they would have filled with a visit to the Science Space. We started with 140 free bags of take-home STEM experiments and the projects grew from there.

To date, the innovative science centre and planetarium have delivered remote STEM learning to nearly 1,200 primary school students across NSW and Victoria on topics ranging from space expeditions to terrarium building and liquid nitrogen to the secret life of bees.

A teacher at Ashley Park Primary School in Doreen on the north-eastern outskirts of Melbourne took her Year 1 and 2 students on a Science Space virtual excursion. She noted, “Our incursion was so educational, informative and so much fun! The kids loved it and had so many great things to say and so many questions about space! This experience was so much fun, especially during remote learning.”

In addition to the virtual learning options for classrooms, Science Space will continue to offer more than 50 free home science experiments, workbooks and recorded live stream videos to families to help support curious minds no matter the location or travel restrictions.

“Our message to Australia is don’t let distance stop your learning and exploration with science. We will continue to ensure all young enquiring minds can access our signature brand of ‘facts you can feel’, the Director of Science Space stated.

“While we live in an uncertain time, we promise high quality and accessible STEM learning for all no matter your location.”

About Science Space

Science Space is Australia’s most successful regional science centre, boasting more than 90 hands-on exhibits, five animatronic dinosaurs, a portfolio of engaging LIVE science shows, NSW’s most digitally advanced Planetariums and purpose-built STEM Zone dedicated to delivering innovative learning programs for school children.

Higher education legislation must be amended to avert cuts to STEM

In its submission to a Senate inquiry on the higher education legislation, Science & Technology Australia has proposed key amendments to avert damaging cuts in funding for STEM degrees. In June 2020, the Australian Government announced its Job-Ready Graduates plan. It proposes to make major changes to how university education is funded.

The Government has said it wants to see more graduates in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) courses – and wants more humanities students to acquire STEM literacy and skills – because these are areas where Australia expects strong future jobs growth.

STA strongly supports this goal – however, this legislation as drafted would cut the level of funding for universities to teach students in STEM courses by $690 million in 2021 alone. STA President Associate Professor noted that it was important for people to understand the magnitude of the proposed cut to STEM degree funding in the legislation as currently drafted.

He stated that while the Government’s stated goal is to boost STEM places, this proposed legislation would cut base funding by 17% for maths degrees, 16% for science and engineering degrees, and 29% for environmental sciences. STA members in STEM faculties analysed this and concluded the practical effect of the proposed cuts would limit the STEM places universities can afford to offer.

As a constructive way to avert the proposed cuts to STEM, STA recommends the Senate add a “science loading” clause to the legislation to ensure funding for STEM education does not fall. Their proposed amendment would essentially ensure base funding for STEM degrees remains the same – meaning universities don’t reduce the number of places they can offer in STEM courses.

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