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New $10.5m science program to give 5000 NSW students hands-on biotech lab experience

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Over the next three years, an expected 5000 NSW students and 60 teachers in NSW are expected to engage in a $10.5m program through a partnership between The Amgen Foundation and The University of Sydney. The three-week in-class initiative provides intensive professional development for teachers as well as teaching materials and research-grade equipment to classrooms to help educate students about the concepts and techniques scientists use to discover and develop medicines.

As year 12 students across NSW prepare for their biology exam next month, the University of Sydney’s Dr Hannah Nicholas said the expansion of ABE into Australia through the University offered invaluable hands-on learning.

“Previously biotechnology was an optional element of HSC biology but now that it is a core component, we are excited to support schools in this aspect of the curriculum. Through the ABE, students will gain an understanding of medical applications of biotechnology, with a focus on insulin,” said Dr Nicholas, who is a Senior Lecturer in Molecular Biology and the University of Sydney’s ABE Site Director.

“The Amgen Biotech Experience has already been well received by schools around NSW participating in the pilot and it’s been amazing to see the students learning so much from this experience.”

International research indicates that 75 per cent of the fastest growing occupations now require STEM skills and knowledge. However, Australian student results in mathematics and science have failed to keep pace, stagnating over the past 20 years.

The benefits of increased access to education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) through this program extend beyond the individual teachers and students participating. Research conducted by PWC also indicates that shifting just 1% of the workforce into STEM roles would add $57.4 billion to Australia’s GDP.

Dr Nicholas said the program supported the goals described in the National STEM School Education Strategy. “It helps increase student STEM ability, engagement and aspiration as well as boosting teacher capacity and STEM teaching quality.”

The launch of the ABE in Australia follows nearly 30 years of the program supporting high school science teachers in the US and Europe to implement real-world biotechnology labs in their classrooms, to help their students better understand science and how it influences their daily lives.

Prof Judy Anderson, Director of the University of Sydney’s STEM Teacher Enrichment Academy said it was important to continue to support Australian teachers by providing professional development opportunities like those offered through the Amgen Biotech Experience.

“It is important to keep teachers engaged in and inspired by the curriculum they are teaching as this is reflected by their student’s enthusiasm as well. The teacher training offered by the Amgen Biotech Experience is comprehensive and provides teachers with the knowledge, skills, resources and support to make a real change in their classroom teaching of science.”

Recently, The Amgen Foundation has also announced ABE’s expansion to Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, Netherlands, Shanghai and Singapore in addition to programs already underway in the US, Puerto Rico, UK and Ireland. Globally, ABE is expected to reach nearly 900,000 students by 2020 in 18 regions around the world.

A sample of high school ABE teachers in the US during the 2016-2017 school year demonstrates that students exposed to ABE have significant and substantial learning in biotechnology increased interest and confidence in doing science and biotechnology.

  • students had a statistically significant increase and with large effect size of their biotechnology knowledge and skills (p < 0.001)
  • students averaged a 20 percent increase between pre- and post-test scores
  • 82 percent of students got new ideas about what happens in science labs
  • 72 percent of students got new ideas about what science is
  • 53 percent of students are more interested in learning about science research
  • 53 percent of students report increased interest in science careers from ABE participation.

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