The survey of 149 parents by aid group Save the Children also found 95 per cent believed their children had improved their chances of employment by undertaking such projects, and 85 per cent said Hands On Learning was the main reason their children had been motivated to attend school.
Save the Children, which operates Hands On Learning through philanthropic donations, has appealed to the federal government for $10 million to extend the program to 300 schools across the nation.
However, federal Education Minister Dan Tehan, who said on Friday he wouldn’t speculate about what might be in the April 2 budget, wasn’t offering hope.
“The Department of Education and Training has not previously provided funding or support for Save the Children’s Hands On Learning program, and there has been no assessment by the department of the impact of this program,” Mr Tehan said on Friday.
The opposition, however, is taking new interest.
The Deputy Opposition Leader and Labor’s spokeswoman on education, Tanya Plibersek, will visit Hands On Learning at Mount Eliza Secondary College on Tuesday.
Though she did not mention any potential funding commitment, Ms Plibersek said she was undertaking the visit “to see the terrific work firsthand”.
Apart from Save the Children’s funding, the Victorian state government provides two “artisan” teachers to each school hosting the program. These teachers have extensive life and work experiences outside the education system.
Save the Children chief executive Paul Ronalds said the case for expanding the program was overwhelming.
“Right now, Australia has 80,000 or more kids who are not finishing year 12. That’s a social and educational problem of epic proportions,” he said.
Mr Ronalds said the financial cost was huge. He pointed to a 2014 Mitchell Institute study that calculated the total cost to the taxpayer of those who didn’t complete secondary school at $12 billion over their lifetimes.
A Deloitte Access Economics report had found the net benefit of providing Hands On Learning between 1999 and 2012 had been $1.6 billion.
Tony Wright is the associate editor and special writer for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.