The Courier, Ballarat by Fiona Henderson | November 2016
Daymion Guru recently spent his school day studying a Nissan GTR racing car – and its state-of-the-art sensors – up close.
But that’s not an unusual day in the classroom for the 16-year-old, who can duplicate pretty much anything on a 3D printer and who wants to be an electrical engineer.
Yet Daymion once didn’t really like school.
Grace Duley, 15, loved studying the behind-the-scenes technology that powers Sovereign Hill’s popular Sound and Light Show.
She dreams of one day being a carpenter or a builder – yet only a short while ago had a school attendance record hovering around 40 per cent.
Andrew Block, 15, wants to become a photographer or work in visual media. But he once felt like he could never stand up and talk confidently.
And Bridie Biggs, 16, is getting closer to her lifelong plan of following in her father’s and grandfather’s footsteps and becoming a motorbike mechanic.
So what has changed the educational lives of these four students and – perhaps even more importantly – their future ambitions?
Federation College’s innovative P-Tech Program partners with IBM to provide students with industry visits while also studying a VCAL based curriculum around the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects.
Visits to the Fiona Elsey Cancer Research Institute, Bartlett Blinds, Albins Performance Transmissions and Deakin University’s CADET program have rounded out the workplace visits.
IBM corporate citizenship and corporate affairs manager Jade Moffat said the P-Tech model was developed in Brooklyn, New York, in 2011 and was quickly picked up by 60 sites across the United States.
In Australia, the federal government has committed to 14 P-Tech schools, with pilot programs starting this year in Ballarat and Geelong.
While the students have mainly done workplace visits this year, next year they will also receive an IBM mentor and work on specific IT projects.
“We have committed to a lot of hands-on involvement,” Ms Moffat said.
“This year students have come in on tours but next year they will work on real life projects at IBM and have weekly contact with their mentor.”
IBM also funds a P-Tech Program industry liaison officer who organises the workplace visits, while two full-time classroom teachers supervise the students at Federation College in Grant Street.
But what do the students think of such a unique program?
“It’s opened my eyes a lot. It’s given us a lot of opportunities to see what it’s like in the workplace,” Grace said.
“It was cool seeing how much technology has changed.”
Bridie said she enjoyed seeing how machines were helping businesses to do things quicker and more efficiently.
And Andrew – who like most Ballarat students had visited Sovereign Hill on a regular basis – said getting to see the behind the scenes action was a highlight.
But at a recent presentation to IBM staff and representatives from the sites they had visited, the students also had to describe a special skill they had worked on during the year.
In Grace’s case it was communication. “I used to be really bad at talking to people,” she said.
However, a new job at a Clunes restaurant plus having to communicate a lot during her studies has transformed her into a very articulate and confident teenager.
“They’ve taught us how to speak in the workplace, and we have to talk to our teachers in a different way to our classmates. I never liked school before but it was a lot easier to come here.”
Andrew also said he was a much more confident talker but said he believed his main skill was leadership and responsibility.
“Where we needed teamwork, I would help lead the group.”
He said he plans to continue P-Tech all the way through.
“This year has been about basic skills but over the next couple of years we will get certificates that will make us more employable.”
Both Daymion and Bridie cite analytical thinking as their strength.
“I concentrate a lot more,” Daymion said. “But you also get treated like an adult here. It’s a respect factor with the teachers.”
Bridie said: “I take everything in I’m being told and I listen to it.”
Teacher Cheree Macdonald said the workplace visits had allowed the students to see major products being produced while also thinking about how technology was changing the world of work.
“It gives them an insight into what it means to work in the industry,” Ms Macdonald said.
“It’s skills focused and the growth in them even in just one term has been heart warming. It will have such an impact on their future.”
Federation College associate director – college programs Eliza Lane said Federation College Youth Programs helped students who have been disengaged or disenchanted by mainstream education re-engage in learning, or young people who are looking for a different way of learning to achieve senior secondary qualifications and diverse future pathways.
She said the students could complete their senior secondary qualifications (year 10 to 12) at Federation College before heading into many varied pathways like any other young person, including higher education programs, TAFE, traineeships and apprenticeships, or employment.