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Inside Victoria's Tech Schools: blending industry, research and education

Imagine a school where STEM is king. Classrooms are equipped with the latest and greatest in educational technology. 3D printers hum as they create protoypes designed to become medical miracles. Experts beam in from all corners of the globe to offer experience and advice. Virtual ‘insectoids’ created from scratch, lurk behind 52 pairs of Oculus Rift headsets, mimicking the behaviour of real live insects. Students choose their own adventure. They design, collaborate, deliberate and learn from their failures along the way.

There are presently two such schools that exist, and no they're not in Finland or Sweden, but closer to home than you might think.

The first, sits nestled in Victoria's Yarra Ranges, and the second, Monash Tech School, lies about 30 minutes south-east of Melbourne's CBD.

This article was originally published in February 2018 edition of Australian Teacher Magazine and online at Education HQ.boost performance in STEM subjects, including targeting a 25 per cent increase in the number of Year 9 students reaching the highest level of achievement in maths, and 33 per cent more 15-year olds reaching the highest levels in science by 2025.

"The model governing Tech Schools is a world-first, with students being able to access the latest in technology and thinking as informed by the future needs of growing local industries,” State Minister for Education James Merlino says.

The schools will be scattered around Victoria, set up to service the students at nearby partner schools, which might be from independent, Catholic or government sectors.

Students typically visit their local Tech School for a three-day program, becoming immersed in a new way of learning, and then taking the experience back to their own classroom for followup activities.

To ensure these schools have access to the latest in industry knowledge, a Tech Schools STEM/ Future Industries Advisory Panel has been established.

Panel members include:

  • Gill Callister, Secretary, Department of Education and Training (Co-chair)

  • Richard Bolt, Secretary, Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources (Co-chair)

  • Doctor Amanda Caples, Lead Scientist to the Victorian Government

  • Australian Industry Group

  • Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE)

  • Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes (AAMRI)


  • Food Innovation Australia Ltd

  • Clean Energy Council

  • Design Institute of Australia

  • Engineers Australia

  • Victorian Employers Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VECCI)

  • Victorian Skills Commissioner.

Ashley Van Krieken is director of Monash Tech School (MTS), which opened its doors in October 2017.

His working background spans a variety of sectors including economic analysis, manufacturing, minerals and resources.

Previous roles have included time as manager of Strategic Partnerships and Initiatives at John Monash Science School; Executive Director of the Council of Textile and Fashion Industries of Australia; and director of Member and Branch Services at the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy.

Van Krieken says it was the blending of industry, research and schools that drew him to apply for the Tech School role.

"So coming out of those different industry sectors, particularly in my later roles, a lot of what I was hearing from companies was that they're getting great technical graduates, so graduates that have got great skills in their particular area of study, but maybe not necessarily the greatest exposure to working in a team or understanding how the modern sector is functioning,” he explains.

"So, I figured that when the Tech School role came up and it was talking about building community- based areas where you're teaching these global skills, but reflecting the local needs of the industry, it really called out to me as a pretty good policy to follow.”

To set students up for success in the future world of work, Van Krieken says they've tried to create an environment that's as far away from the typical school classroom as possible.

"So the spaces are really open,” he says.

"We have the students working in teams using canvases and other materials, so there's a degree of direction, but the students are actually given a lot of freedom to really move around within that particular area.

"So a typical day would start, they'll come in, they'll come up to the centre, and already they're starting to go ‘wow, this isn't school'.

“There are screens everywhere, there are tables everywhere, we've got access to all of this technology and all of these materials, and ‘wow, we've been given a problem and there is some timing we've got to keep to, but really we have a lot of control over how we go.”

Elissa Mckenzie, learning designer at Yarra Ranges Tech School (YRTS), says Design Thinking forms an important focus at their school.

"Design Thinking is very strong in what we're doing, we've been asked to focus very strongly on those critical thinking aspects of the curriculum and that's very much what we're trying to embed in students.

"So, we're trying to make them feel, when they come here, they're coming to a workplace,” she explains.

In fact, before students can even enter the building, they're required to apply for a work permit on the YRTS website, covering off OH&S and preparing them for a real-world learning experience.

"We're going to present them with a real-world problem, we provide them with some pre-learning that explains the background context around that problem and why it's a problem, how it relates to real industries, and we have filmed a range of industry representatives, that we've embedded throughout our pre-learning that will explain how realistic the problem is,” Mckenzie says.

"They will then get a set of criteria that they need to design to, and when they come to us, we will teach them obviously how to use the technology ... There's always a key learning outcome that's technology-based, as well as key thinking skills that need to be applied, and our assessment rubrics, they really hone in on a lot of those more 21st century learning skills, which we've called ‘tr