Science or trade skills… What do you think is more valuable to Australia’s future?

Two articles were trending online yesterday about the same thing. The first was featured on the Daily Mail and was called, ‘Has Australia dumbed down? Critics say nation is funding tradies and baristas over science and innovation” and the second was by Australia’s Chief Scientist, Ian Chubb in WA Today called “Every child needs to love science to thrive”.

They both approach the one topic in two very different ways. The question is, do you agree with them?

In a Bloomberg article titled ‘Australia Dumbs Down as Abbott Bets on Baristas Over Brains’, Australian National University economics lecturer Dr Andrew Hughes said cutting back on research investment was ‘insanity’ adding that relying on the ‘bottom end of the economy’ was a short-sighted strategy.

Funding announcements in this year’s Federal Budget signalled that research investment would be cut by $300 million over the next four years. Meanwhile Prime Minister Tony Abbott trumpeted a raft of new measures to aid small business owners – including tax write-offs for small business equipment like vehicles, tools and coffee machines.

This years’ budget was predominantly focussed on getting Australia to a strong economic position in the short term, and boosting the local economy through local business is a smart way to do it. However, the short term focus leaves Australia’s R&D potential in the long term, very limited.

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Australian Chief Scientist Ian Chubb wrote in his article, “For 20 years, we have presided over declining levels of participation in science and mathematics in years 11 and 12, and watched our students’ performance slip down the global ranks, while assuring ourselves that, with calculators, they’ll be all right.

But I think about the sort of jobs a child in school today might want to do in 10, 20, 50 years. And I wonder, which of those jobs will not require an understanding of science? How many will not need to know, at the very least, how science works, and how it might be applied in the workplace?

I’d say very few: in a world utterly reliant on science, most will need at least a reasonable level of scientific understanding. Our education system ought to provide it – to everyone.”

The thing is that both sets of skills are rich and valuable to Australia’s future – they both need to be taught in balance to have a balanced country. But science and innovation have the potential to generate more trade jobs in the long term, so that should never be far off the Australian government’s agenda.

Tell us today, do you think funding should be balanced between trade and science and innovation or does one sector have more value than the others? Do your grandkids do science and maths at school? Share your thoughts in the comments below…