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News 2 > Global Teacher Prize - Finalists > 2023 Finalists Global Teacher Prize > Ian Preston 

Ian Preston 

Australia - Murrumbidgee Regional High School, Griffith, New South Wales

Born to parents with little formal education past primary school level and as the first, and only, person in his immediate family to study years 11 and 12, he initially went to work in a bank before applying to the University of Newcastle 700km from home to study Industrial Arts teaching in 1987, paid for through his limited savings and jobs including tutoring students in mathematics, working night shifts in a petrol station, driving a truck delivering steel all around NSW during university breaks, and working in an abattoir doing a wide range of unpleasant tasks. Whereas others would have given up on university and dreams of becoming a teacher, Ian persisted.  

Early in his career he pioneered ‘telematics’ in regional NSW establishing the innovative Lachlan Access Program (LAP) providing access to years 11 and 12 for students from small rural communities who previously had to travel from home to access their final two years of secondary education. Almost 30 years after its establishment, the LAP still operates today providing educational equity and access for rural and remote students, enabling a generation of students to remain in their community to complete their secondary education, which has a significant impact socially and economically.  

In 2020, he began researching the concept of using his previous experiences to deliver STEM enrichment to students, culminating in the establishment and implementation of the NSW Virtual STEM Academy providing STEM enrichment to rural, regional and remote students through engaging gaming-based software. This has grown from an initial trial involving 8 students in 2021 to 253 students in 2022 and a projected 500 students in 2023. The program reach has evolved from all students from four schools in one town to currently 27 schools from all corners of NSW as well as international students. Indigenous and female students are targeted by the program with participation rates of 20% and 49% respectively. Due to the success of the NSWVSA, Ian is now working with a small group of colleagues to implement the Australian Virtual STEM Academy.  

Ian has been involved in significant curriculum development in NSW, and has a long history of his students achieving at the highest levels both academically and in sporting teams, with students ranking in the top bands in the HSC for Engineering Studies, Computing and Industrial Technology and his student teams have won the Australian Aeronautical Velocity Challenge in both planes and bottle rockets. 

His proudest career achievement is his history of providing educational excellence, access and equity to students from disadvantaged, regional, rural and remote communities. As a highly accomplished transformational educational leader with proven experience in implementing and nurturing innovative STEM educational programs, Ian has made significant contributions to regional, state, national and international STEM education programs, recognised in 2021 with an Excellence in Teaching award from the NSW Education Minister. In 2022, he was awarded a prestigious Commonwealth Bank Teaching Fellowship for his work establishing the Australian and NSW Virtual STEM Academies and the 2022 Premiers Prize for Innovation in Science, Technology, Engineering and/or Mathematics teaching in New South Wales. 

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