The Making of Australia

Saturday, February 13, 2016: 1:30 PM-4:30 PM
Salon 1 (Marriott Wardman Park)
Jared Wilkins, Questacon, the National Science and Technology Centre, Deakin, Australia
Australia has for a very long time viewed and projected itself as being a population of relaxed, practical people that can fix most things with a few bits of leather, a length of barbed wire and some elbow grease. This culture of self-reliance, innovation and do-it-yourself was formed from geographic isolation and a small and dispersed population. In common with many other countries increases in economic prosperity, access to global markets and shifts in work-life balance over the decades has seen a growth in consumptive behaviour, noticeably at the expense of creative, constructive activities.

At the same time the global competitiveness market pushed the formal education sector towards stricter measurement of academic performance. The demands on teachers to meet expanding curriculums and a growing dependence on the practice of teaching for exams has reduced the impetus for students to experience open ended exploration, undertake inquiry activities and develop the confidence and strategies to tackle and solve problems.

As fate would have it the global market has now shifted its workforce priorities. There are demands across industry and research for adaptive lifelong learners who are confident in multidisciplinary teams, can be innovative in their approach to a problem and create and implement solutions with limited resources. In other words – those who can fix things with a few bits of leather and some barbed wire.

Recently the Australian Government along with industry and academia have started to utilise the rhetoric associated with the MAKER and are seeking ways to foster, copy and build upon its values and practices bolting them firmly to the STEM agenda. Success, growth and sustainability are seen as being down the path of innovation, science and industry as Australia shifts its’ ideals from a manufacturing economy towards an ideas-based one.

The change of course has seen renewed interest in, and an unearthing of, the culture and community of makers, tinkerers, inventors and hackers. This group has become more visible in recent years with the community of Men’s Sheds, a peer led collection of workshop facilities begun as a support mechanism for retired men, through to the growth of hand-made markets where local artisans sell their work.

Science centres in Australia have been working around the edges of Maker culture for the last decade. Establishing tinkering activities as programmes for the general public attracting children and their parents/grandparents to engage in simple make activities is a staple of the school holiday program for most museums and science centres. The influence of science centre comes from its ability to act a bridge across government policy.