The Guardian • Issue #2024

Defence programmes in SA schools

  • by Bev Hall
  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2024


In 2010 the then-Federal Government announced a pilot programme to develop a defence curriculum. Three South Australian government schools were initially selected to develop this defence focus pathway. They were Aberfoyle Park (which Raytheon partnered with), Henley High School, and Valley View, with St Patricks Technical school added soon after.

In addition, several defence companies, including Raytheon, contributed to the Ignite programmes for gifted students in maths and science STEM courses. In return, Raytheon and other defence industry manufacturers, scientists, and engineers could have access to students who could be “mentored” into a career in the weapons industry.

The aim of the then $10.9 million was a National Partnership Agreement to prepare students to work in the defence industry and the military. After this announcement several concerned community groups and the AEU organised a campaign to highlight the emphasis being placed on war rather than peace. This funding could at the time have offered real futures in developing environmental sciences and broader skills in more constructive and sustainable development.

In June 2014, The Heights School was announced as the Number One defence school in SA and became the first specialist school offering pathways in weapon research and design or military careers. The funding included a project manager for a three-year term to compile the defence curriculum.

The aim was that students would work with defence industries and the industries would assist the more talented to gain university qualifications which led to defence research and manufacturing.

The programme began in year 8, focusing on defence STEM for Ignite students, while other students would be offered pathways into the defence forces or other military fields. The emphasis from year 10 involved drone designs and manufacture, air vehicles and SWAT projects. Years 11 and 12 were to be immersed into defence industry pathways and research projects involving mentors and university transition programmes in defence-associated studies including submarine technology.

A STEM SISTA programme was established to engage female mentors to encourage girls into the field. Several other schools developed subsections to this defence-oriented programme including some private schools.

There was a great deal of secrecy surrounding these developments which has implications about the real objectives of these programmes, as no public consultation occurred even involving the school’s parents. Parents were unaware of the programmes involved only because the schools were receiving funding for STEM support.

Unfortunately, this was a very narrow view of STEM and in some cases at the loss of a STEM approach developing other pathways for students who were more creatively gifted. Due to zoning, students have no real choice in what pathways they wish to follow if schools limit the available opportunities. Defence pathways lead students into the design and manufacture of cluster bombs, killer drones, and other weapons of mass destruction.

Gearing education towards the manufacture of weapons for the military industry should incorporate an understanding that it is innocent lives which are lost. An example is that killer drones kill 28 innocent people for each ‘enemy’ killed and the operators of these drones are already suffering from stress disorders.

Although the allocated funds for these trial projects have been expended, and many of these schools have broadened to include the visual and performing arts and social sciences, the defence programmes are now included in most SA schools.

There are some exceptions with several Primary schools with a Peace emphasis and a UNESCO-designated Peace College. In following up since the numbers of students attracted to the defence industry and defence forces was considerably less than expected.

Even though South Australia is regarded as the Defence State, jobs in this industry are limited and unsustainable. What is needed are compulsory pathways into Peace Education, environmental sciences, and the humanities. These are urgently needed for peace negotiation, restructuring, and environmental awareness with programmes leading to construction, not destruction considering humanity is on the brink of extinction.

An example of the present programme can be viewed on The Heights School – STEM in Defence Industry Skills web page. – STEM in Defence Industry Skills programme.

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