30 September 2014

$28.8 million adds up for Indigenous students

Closing the gap in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander achievement and employment in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) is the aim of a new CSIRO education program, funded by the BHP Billiton Foundation.

Launched today at Parliament House by the Hon Ian Macfarlane MP, Minister for Industry, the $28.8 million, five-year project will deliver education programs, excellence awards, mentoring, summer schools and tailored university degrees, reaching students and schools across Australia.

CSIRO Chief Executive, Dr Megan Clark said the new program would support students from primary school through to tertiary education, providing a pathway to increase Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representation in STEM related professions.

“CSIRO has delivered education initiatives across Australia for over 35 years and in parallel to this, we have a dedicated Indigenous science program that not only aims to get more Indigenous scientists working in CSIRO, but also delivers science projects for Indigenous communities,” Dr Clark said.

“Our partnership with BHP Billiton will enhance and expand our education programs to reach Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students from across Australia. We are really excited about this opportunity to reach so many new students, and get them excited about science, technology, engineering and mathematics.”

BHP Billiton Chief Executive Officer, Andrew Mackenzie, said the program would build on BHP Billiton’s 33 year partnership with CSIRO through its support of the Science and Engineering Awards.

“BHP Billiton believes that providing opportunities in STEM education is a powerful way to support the professional aspirations and career opportunities of a generation of young Aboriginal Australians.

“We hope the program encourages more Aboriginal students to consider a rewarding career in the STEM disciplines, which will go some way to further closing the gap and recognising the important contribution Aboriginal Australians make to the economy.

“This latest long-term partnership commitment between CSIRO and BHP Billiton is aligned not only to the Foundation’s focus on STEM education but also the company’s commitment to provide tangible opportunities that support Aboriginal peoples with education, training, employment and business development,” Mr Mackenzie said.

CSIRO will manage and implement the program over five years, targeting metropolitan, regional and remote schools across Australia with high Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations.

The program includes primary through to secondary school programs, summer school and mentoring for high-achieving year 10 students, excellence awards and a tailored Bachelor of Science at the University of Melbourne.

Learn more about our STEM education program for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

Additional resources


  • Students and scientist using hands-on scientific learning activities to improve educational outcomes Download image

    The program provides inquiry-based, hands-on learning activities to improve educational outcomes in STEM subjects.

  • Smiling Indigenous students using a laptop Download image

    Western Australian and Queensland students learning science and mathematics through a customised program for Indigenous students.


Background information

More Indigenous students into STEM: Background information

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander performance in science and mathematics

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students are more than two-and-a-half years behind their non-Indigenous peers in scientific and mathematical literacy1.
  • The gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and their non-Indigenous peers in achievement in science and mathematics remained the same from 2002 to 20122.
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians are significantly under-represented in higher education, comprising only 1.4 per cent of student enrolments at university in 20103. This is even more pronounced in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) courses and in applied science professions.
  • The significant gap in educational outcomes and achievement limits career opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, including in Indigenous communities where STEM-related professions are essential for development.
Key issues in STEM education for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students include:
  • Language processes underpinning conceptual development and understanding
  • Potential mismatches between cultural beliefs about the world, and education in STEM
  • Challenges for students in dealing with university cultures, particularly in STEM disciplines4
The six elements of the CSIRO and BHP Billiton Indigenous STEM education program
  1. Science Pathways for Indigenous Communities targets primary and middle school students in remote communities and uses on-country projects as the context for learning science.
  2. Inquiry for Indigenous Science Students targets middle school students in mainstream metropolitan and regional schools, using hands-on inquiry-based projects to improve student outcomes in science.
  3. Counting Futures targets primary and middle school students in mainstream metropolitan and regional schools, providing tools, support and career preparation to improve mathematics outcomes.
  4. Aboriginal Summer School for Excellence in Technology and Science targets high-achieving Year 10 students, bringing them together for a residential camp, as well as providing a mentoring program to support these students through Years 11 and 12.
  5. Excellence Awards recognises and raises the profile of the achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander school students in STEM subjects.
  6. Bachelor of Science (extended) provides a supported pathway to complete a mainstream Bachelor of Science at the University of Melbourne for students who show potential, but who might otherwise not have access to such an opportunity.
About education at CSIRO

For more than 35 years, CSIRO has delivered science education and outreach activities around Australia.

As the only organisation with a national science education infrastructure, we develop and present high-quality science programs, aiming to encourage students to take up careers in science, engineering and technology, as well as engage and enthuse students, teachers and the wider community about science and its applications.

About the BHP Billiton Foundation

BHP Billiton Foundation is an independent charitable entity set up to further BHP Billiton’s voluntary investment in community. The charity is designed to provide public benefit by enabling people living in regions where BHP Billiton has an interest, to improve quality of life through improvements in health, education and governance.

1OECD Programme for International Student Assessment 2012 survey
2OECD Programme for International Student Assessment 2012 survey
3Australian Government Review of Higher Education Access and Outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People 2012
4Australia Council for Learned Academies’ STEM: Country Comparisons 2013 report

Expand background information


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