Leading businesses help tackle Australia's numeracy challenge

04 September 2017

As business and charities increasingly seek innovative ways to work together in tackling our nation’s social challenges, employees at some of Australia’s biggest companies are learning practical skills to support children’s numeracy, thanks to a unique workplace initiative by children’s education charity The Smith Family.

More than 800 employees at companies including Origin, Orica and PwC have already taken part in Let’s Count at work, a growing social enterprise delivered by The Smith Family in the form of corporate workshops. The one-hour training session provides employees with ideas and activities to support the early numeracy development of young children in their care.

The workshops are paid for by the company with revenue channelled back into The Smith Family’s education programs for children in disadvantaged communities across Australia.

“Maths is a subject area that is critical to everyday life and, ultimately, to Australia’s quest to be a more innovative and competitive nation. However, Australian students are slipping behind other countries in maths and science, with those from disadvantaged backgrounds most at risk of not having the basic numeracy skills we all need,” said The Smith Family CEO Dr Lisa O’Brien.

“Research shows that developing a child’s interest and skills in maths before they start school boosts their achievement later in life, but there’s tended to be less of a focus on this area. Typically, parents feel more confident supporting their child’s reading skills – with bedtime stories, for example – but developing a child’s early numeracy skills is just as important,” Dr O’Brien said.

Building on an existing partnership with the Origin Foundation, The Smith Family piloted Let’s Count at work with more than 300 Origin employees across the country. The session is based on the principles and activities used in the Let’s Count program, which was developed in particular to support children from disadvantaged backgrounds and has been shown through a three-year evaluation to increase the maths skills and enjoyment of preschool-aged children, their parents and carers.

Let’s Count at work was a valued addition to our program of special events for Origin parents and carers,” said Emma Barton, Origin Foundation’s Manager of Community and Partner Advocacy. “Employees really appreciated taking time out of their workday to learn practical skills that will positively impact their families. And they felt good knowing that it was supporting the work of The Smith Family.”

Workshops have since been delivered to more than 20 companies Australia-wide. Run by an experienced educator from The Smith Family, the sessions offer a fun and interactive learning experience.

Orica Group Executive, Corporate Services and Company Secretary, Kirsten Gray hopes to see more Australian businesses taking a proactive approach to supporting parents at work and thinking outside the box when it comes to staff engagement and social responsibility.

“The STEM disciplines – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – are critical to the future of a company like Orica and the lack of engagement in these subjects is a real challenge,” said Ms Gray. "A program like Let’s Count at work is one way we can support parents with tips and information that will benefit their children’s learning. With more companies delivering this training, we can have a positive and lasting impact on the next generation of young Australians.”

Find out more about Let’s Count at work here.