In response to Labor Party criticism that his term as Victorian Premiere has ignored voter concerns about STEM education, Denis Napthine recently announced a startling campaign promise. Should he be re-elected, Napthine wishes to invest $2.2 million in providing Victorian secondary schools with 3D printing technology. Over 390 secondary schools would be given $3,750 to purchase a printer and provide both teachers and students with hands-on training in an effort to promote student interest and ability in STEM fields.
The program would be an extension of the already-in-place Quantum Victoria 3D Modeling % Printing program. Quantum Victoria, which provides online programs, lessons, and resources to schools in alignment with Victoria schools’ required curriculum, has previously offered basic training in CAD design and 3D printing for years 7-10. However, the program required students to travel to the QV center in Macleod West. By providing schools with their own equipment, Napthine’s promise would allow the schools more flexibility to develop their own projects and programs around 3D printing outside of what is offered by Quantum Victoria.
“This program,” Napthine said to reporters, “will nurture student creativity and scientific endeavor, and help to create the next generation of cutting-edge scientists, designers, and manufacturers.” This is certainly something Australia could use. In a 2012 study conducted by the Center for the Study of Higher Education, almost half of professional occupations reporting skill shortages were in STEM fields; in other words, most current graduates don’t have the required background in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics to fulfil these positions. Thus, there is a high demand for more expertise and education.
However, Napthine’s critics in the Labor Party feel this promise is coming much too late. James Merlino, the party’s education spokesman, feels that this new campaign promise is less proof that Napthine has heard the educational concerns of his constituents and more a last-ditch attempt to divert criticism. Rather than turning over a new leaf, he feels the program may come much too late. “Dennis Napthine continues to play catch-up on education in this state with no vision for the future of our kids,” he stated in response to the promise.
According to a report by IT research and advisory company Gartner released Monday, it may also be too early to see 3D printing technology make any real change to STEM curriculum in secondary schools. The report, written by analyst Peter Basiliere, stated that, while the number of 3D printers shipped worldwide should double in 2015 and continue growing exponentially in the future, it was simply not a resource most pre-college institutions would find useful.
“While classroom 3D printing is for enthusiastic teachers who have the drive to try it out,” Basiliere stated in his report, “it is far from changing the curriculum in any significant way.” Instead, the technology may find more use in a college setting. “While classroom use will drive a small number of purchases in secondary schools, post-secondary institutions are most likely to invest in the near term.”
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