The redevelopments come as the College places a renewed focus on the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) curriculum in order to further enhance the critical skills needed in the workplace.
“STEM is a way of thinking and a way of problem-solving,” said Loreto College Principal, Dr Nicole Archard. “Regardless of whether students are going into areas involving technology or engineering, they will develop skills and knowledge in design thinking, critical analysis and problem solving – all things they will need regardless of career choice.
“As a school, we have a strong history of producing girls who go into fields of medicine, engineering, medical research, technology etc. I think now we are not producing enough students, nationally, to meet what Australia’s demands are in the future with the changing workforce.”
Loreto’s prominence in providing students with options in subjects such as horticulture and physics has been extended with the redevelopment of the Junior School playground, and a nature play space – both of which are dedicated to helping girls experience a new type of learning.
“It becomes incredibly important for girls’ schools because girls are underrepresented nationally and globally in these areas of employment,” said Dr Archard. “It becomes a need for us as educators to do more to make sure we are addressing those needs so that we are developing girls who have a mindset that tells them they can work in these areas.
“It might even start in primary school because of stereotypes that place girls inside and outside of certain careers, and areas of interest in relation to maths and science.
“As a school, we have a responsibility to break down those stereotypes and make sure they don’t exist. Because we [Loreto] don’t have those stereotypes in place, we can encourage girls to pursue those subjects in school and carry them on into their careers.”
The outdoor nature space ties into a new program that is being run at the Loreto Junior School, which combines entrepreneurial practices with horticultural science. The goal of the program is to help the girls develop a business and leadership mindset in the STEM environment.
The space, which is for the Junior School and Early Learning Centre, is a totally natural area for play where the girls are encouraged to use their imagination, rather than using regular manufactured play equipment.
There is also a garden with recyclable play equipment, where the girls are able to grow crops and undertake lessons in relation to their STEM subjects.
“It’s multifaceted. It’s about getting children outside of the classroom, and it’s about breaking down stereotypes for girls who say they can’t do things where they get physical or dirty,” Dr Archard said. “It is introducing them to areas of science such as horticultural science where they can work with real scientists, so they can help identify themselves that this is something they can pursue in the future.”
The redevelopment of the Science Centre, beginning in late September, will involve the construction of five new science laboratories and breakout areas for the students.
The space has been designed with student engagement and understanding as a priority, by introducing glass walls so other students can see the STEM curriculum being undertaken, and exposing the inner services of the building.
“We have introduced the glass walls to showcase science to all students, and we have done a lot to expose the other services of the building such as plumbing”, said Dr Archard. “The building itself becomes a teaching tool: it’s not just about walking into a class doing a lesson; you actually see the function and how the services of the space work.
“A lot of it is identity building – if you give these girls experiences when they are young enough, you are building their identity, so when they are older they can tell themselves that they can go into any field of study or work.”
The first phase of the Science Centre development is to be completed by the beginning of the 2019 school year.