Growth

Fast Lane: Sponsored high schools are no silver bullet

Cara Waters /

You might have missed it last week in the flurry of announcements about employee share schemes but a key part of the government’s Industry Innovation and Competitiveness Agenda is to roll out tech high schools backed by industry.

Our Prime Minister was so inspired by his visit to Brooklyn’s Pathways in Technology Early College High School (known as “P-Tech”) that he’s allocated $500,000 for a pilot “technology early high school” program in Geelong.

P-Tech is a collaboration between the state and big business – tech giant IBM is a partner with New York Public Schools and the City University of New York, and IBM – students will graduate with a high school diploma and an associate degree in computers or engineering.

Just like at P-Tech, students at the Geelong pilot school will study computer programming, undertake workplace visits and internships alongside normal classes.

The school’s business partner will help write the curriculum and offer pathways to employment for graduates.

While the business partner hasn’t been announced yet there’s already backlash with concern we could end up with a McHigh School. 

“Schools aren’t sweat shops for churning out entry level workers,” Labor’s Kate Ellis said.

But is the idea of getting industry more closely involved in the education system really that bad?

Businesses continue to struggle to access skilled people but our schools aren’t producing enough graduates skilled in areas of demand.

Over the last decade the number of students enrolled in IT has fallen 60%.

We need to do more to attract young people to science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects and a P-Tech style school could be a way to do this.

The problem is that the government is basing its model on P-Tech, a school which hasn’t actually graduated any students yet.

Sponsored schools may help address the lack of STEM graduates in certain areas but a wider push throughout the education system is needed to deal with the skills shortage.

Sponsored schools are no silver bullet but at least we are seeing some new thinking in such an important area.

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Cara Waters

Cara Waters is the former editor of SmartCompany. Previously, Cara was a senior reporter at the Financial Times website FT Adviser in London and she also worked for The Sunday Times in London.

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