Perth geoscientist Suzy Urbaniak has been recognised as the Western Australia local hero in this year’s Australian of the Year awards Ms Urbaniak pioneered taking geoscience out of the classroom into a hands-on, in-the-field experience – particularly for remote area schools.
The ‘Local Hero’ award acknowledges extraordinary contributions made by Australians in their local community – with Ms Urbaniak currently making significant inroads into science education in WA’s Pilbara region.
Ms Urbaniak previously received the 2016 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools for her work in establishing and fostering a teaching program known as the Centre of Resources Excellence (CoRE).
CoRE encourages students to be equipped with the right skills and knowledge to take on a variety of career pathways in science and engineering so that the classroom is treated more as a workplace where students can focus on evolving as young scientists.
The program has also had the additional benefit of further empowering science educators on outcomes that can be achieved by adopting a different approach to a fundamental and necessary skillset for future generations, industry and technologies which will be increasingly reliant on modern-era science breakthroughs and developments.
Ms Urbaniak said that CoRE is all about turning a classroom into a room full of young scientists, rather than students learning from textbooks.
“School and university textbooks teach theory but hands-on experience enables a student to get a real sense of inquiry, investigation and solution outcomes by better connecting the classroom environment directly with what is happening in the real world,” Ms Urbaniak said.
“Critically, the future Australian science and engineering workforce is sitting in our classrooms today.
“CoRE is a philosophy, not just another STEM* program (* A term referring collectively to the teaching of the disciplines within its umbrella – science, technology, engineering and mathematics).
“Education is not about passing tests – life is not an exam.
“The current education system is no longer working satisfactorily. There is an urgent need to change our education system because the future is already here.
“At the end of the working life of the preschool class of 2020, these students will be seeing the beginning of the 22nd century.
“But right now, industry, parents, students and teachers are demanding change.
“0ur current 19th century model for education is not ready for that future as we have not yet prepared our educators, schools and communities to support these young people to thrive, not just survive that future.”
Ms Urbaniak said the CoRE learning philosophy mapped a practical pathway for real-world learning and practical solutions to this national challenge.
“Young people the world over are finding their voice, and are calling for our current teaching ranks to join them and be braver in navigating a rapidly changing world, rather than be paralysed by inaction,” she said.
“As educators, it is up to us to build future skills, attitudes and attributes in our students focused on practical real-world learning and to embrace creativity and challenges to fixed learning methodologies.”
The AGC’s Past-President, Dr Bill Shaw, said today Ms Urbaniak’s nomination had drawn attention to the need for those bedding down Australia’s future national education curricula to ensure the inclusion of good basic science in all future policy settings.
“Science and technology will empower societal growth in what will inevitably be an even more rapidly changing world in the future,” Dr Shaw said.
“Taking science learning into a more enriched, hands-on and self-responsible environment will attract more students to these exciting professions and help ensure Australia has the skillsets to play a major if not leading role in what will be increasingly seamless global industries, careers and professions.
The Australian Geoscience Council was amongst a number of prominent Australian scientists, learned and professional associations and institutes who congratulated Ms Urbaniak for her much deserved recognition through this latest award.
Ms Urbaniak is an AIG member and past chair of the Institute’s Western Australia branch.