Senate debates

Tuesday, 10 September 2019


Subs in Schools

8:46 pm

Photo of Rex PatrickRex Patrick (SA, Centre Alliance) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on a national extracurricular education program called Subs in Schools. Last Friday, I had the pleasure of participating in the South Australian state finals of the Subs in Schools program. As a former Navy submariner, I was keen to be involved. It was kind of a 'boys and their toys' thing for me. Whilst I was aware of these in-school STEM programs, I must confess I was not fully prepared for what I saw and learned on the day. As a first point of learning for me as a senator, there were more girls in the SA program than there were boys. So it's not 'boys and their toys'; it's 'girls and their toys', and that was just fantastic to see.

There were 19 teams from primary schools and high schools, private and public, and they had designed and built small and large remotely operated vehicles and submarines which they had put through a series of in-water tests. I got the chance to witness some of these young innovators presenting their solutions and the processes they had gone through, and then I got to speak to a number of them directly. I was so very impressed with these students—ranging from primary school students all the way up to high school students. Starting at 11 years old, they were keen, eager and enthusiastic. Every one of them that I spoke to elaborated on how participation in this program had helped guide their thinking on what they'd like to do for their future. What I saw was engineers, project managers, graphic designers and marketeers wrapped up in the bodies of children.

These kids were so impressive, and I want to give some of them a bit of a shout-out here in the Senate chamber tonight. There was Clare Green, Polly Turner, Kiely Copeland and Zoe Leppa from Trinity Gardens Primary School's Aukai team. There was Georgia Ventura, Madeline Eime, Ivy Pyman and Caitlyn Pannell from Trinity Gardens Primary School's Vanguard team. The older kids included Saxon Schapel, Maya Dangal and Katherine Yoo from Marryatville High School and their Marryatville Subs team. All of the students participating were representatives of the physical embodiment of our capability and enthusiastic next generation. Even those who didn't win a prize were winners. I felt personally proud of all of the kids there, but, I can tell you, I wasn't as proud as the parents who were looking on as the children received their prizes. Through their participation in this program, the students had to learn and undertake all aspects of these projects—design, prototyping, testing, documenting, project management and marketing, with the older groups also having responsibility for fundraising. To give some perspective, the Australian team that went on to win the F1 in Schools program raised $65,000.

Re-Engineering Australia, or REA, the foundation behind these programs, surveys many of the teachers and students participating in the program. Some salient points from the most recent round: 61 per cent of students said they would consider a career in defence related industries; 71 per cent would recommend to their peers that they consider a career in defence or defence industries; 94 per cent believed that STEM is interesting; 83 per cent thought that STEM was fun; and 86 per cent felt good when they were doing their projects. I think this shows an obvious success. Students thinking STEM was fun and feeling good whilst they were doing their jobs are great outcomes for their own personal development, let alone the positive impact it's likely to have on their desire to be more involved in STEM, and how it's likely to influence their thinking about their future careers. As a South Australian, I was also proud to discover that the level of participation in the Subs in Schools program in my state has driven the need to establish an assessment stage in the form of a state final. South Australia is one of only two states that have had to do this. Across Australia, 600,000 students have been directly mentored through REA's various in-school STEM programs, with many more benefiting indirectly.

This program is clearly helping to stimulate interest in STEM subjects. The students are learning that STEM does not mean more maths, more science and more coding; rather, it's about application and what you do with what you learn. I doubt there's a student in Australia that hasn't sat in the classroom and thought, 'When am I ever going to use this?' These programs are helping to answer that question and broaden their horizons, opening their eyes to things they had previously never considered. Whilst I was there specifically for the Subs in Schools program, Dr Michael Myers, the executive chairman of the REA Foundation, provided me with an overview of all the STEM programs, including F1 in Schools, as previously mentioned; Land Rover 4x4 in Schools; and the new one, Space in Schools, which is just getting underway.

As an ex-submariner, I obviously have an affinity for the Subs in Schools program. However, with the combination of my natural interest and being a senator for South Australia, the home of the Australian Space Agency, I confess to also being interested in the Space in Schools program, and I look forward to seeing that program evolve. Since the commencement of the REA program in 1988, the cumulative corporate contribution of the various REA programs is approaching $37 million. Government grants or sponsorships over the same period total about $6 million, less than 14 per cent of the total cumulative program contributions. This point is not intended to be a negative—in fact, quite the opposite. The corporate world can see the benefits of supporting these programs. And, in my view, this participation and support is a fundamental part of the success of the programs. But this doesn't mean that the government couldn't increase the contribution. I'll come back to that shortly.

Whilst the Subs in Schools program is still very much an Australian program, there are more than 40 countries participating in the F1 in Schools program. In 2006 an Australian team won the first championship for Australia. Since then, Australian teams have collected another six championships. On the international stage, Australia has made a name for itself as a high achiever, with other teams always keen to see what the Australian teams are up to.

Returning to subs, however, South Australia is the build location of our future frigates and submarines. I can see Senator Smith over there, so I'll also say that it's the permanent place for our full cycle dockings, too. We will need a talented workforce if we are to be successful in the naval shipbuilding program, and these kids are part of that talented workforce. We have a duty to foster these sorts of programs. We need to do this for the students, but we also need to do this for industry and for our nation.

It is in that light that I suggest that the Commonwealth, particularly the defence department, might want to supercharge this program. Subs in Schools is a great program, and I encourage senators to pay a visit to a program running in their state. It's about enhancing STEM. It's about flourishing youth. It's about giving our kids an opportunity to get their hands into a project, to use technology in a productive way and to learn what happens when you go through design, prototyping and testing stages. This program, Subs in Schools, and its related programs are about setting up our nation for the future.

Senate adjourned at 20:55