Oil and gas giant’s sponsorship of primary school science lesson sparks debate among parents

When Perth’s mother, Michelle, received news of an impending break-in from her son’s public elementary school – a visit from outside teachers – she was surprised to find out that it was a science lesson offered by volunteers, sponsored by oil and gas giant Woodside.

Important points:

  • A science class invites students to dig for oil with a vegemite sandwich
  • Parents fear the class is being sponsored by an oil and gas company
  • The school says it plans to follow classes on climate change

“The children have the opportunity to make a reservoir out of slices of bread, vegemit and crumble,” says the note.

“They then become their own exploration company and try to find the best spots to drill into the sandwich to find the oil [Vegemite]. “

Michelle told Nadia Mitsopoulos on ABC Radio Perth that she was concerned that the children of age 3

“Usually when something exciting happens at school, especially something like a cool science experiment with sprinkles and bread and vegemite, he would come home from school and say, ‘Mom, guess what I want to do when I grow up ?'” called.

This experience prompted her to speak to her son Jake about climate change and also to speak to the school about teaching.

“We found some little videos on the internet that he loved,” she said.

“Children have to learn in school to use less fossil fuels, not learn to drill more.”

The letter to parents about the Woodside incursion into a Perth elementary school. (



‘What message are you leaving with?’

After speaking with the headmistress and the science teacher, she said the school had also planned to offer follow-up classes on climate change.

While she said people might think they overreact if kids have a few hours of fun eating, she believed the robbery provided a one-sided educational experience.

“If we don’t put the real world into context, if we teach kids how to drill for oil, but then don’t talk to them about how drilling for oil has changed the planet for so many years on earth, what message have you gone with? “

The activity sparked an intense debate among listeners on ABC Radio Perth:

Jay: “There is nothing wrong with Woodside involving young students in science and physics to create the energy we ALL use every day.”

Bruce: “Isn’t it important that children know that oil comes from the earth and is made from dead dinosaurs – that is, it is only available to a limited extent – and not from a drive-in servo that never runs out?”

Gerard “Woodside are not looking to the future. If Jake chooses to graduate, oil and gas will be on his deathbed.”

cam: “We would oppose fast food / cigarette / gun companies talking in schools and we should have the same reaction to the fossil fuel industry doing the same.”

A teacher speaks to students in a classroom. Some parents have raised concerns about inviting a company to teach children about oil drilling. (

Flickr: US Department of Education


A PR exercise?

The procedure was offered in schools as part of Woodside’s STEM program – science, technology, engineering and math – which “sends trained volunteers to elementary and secondary schools to conduct activities and share stories that spark curiosity about STEM and its many career opportunities “. “.

Woodside’s website indicates that the program is fully booked for the remainder of 2021.

Woodside's Pluto LNG project in the Pilbara was lit with lights at dusk. Woodside is an important part of WA’s oil and gas industry. (

Supplied: Woodside Energy Ltd


Professor Charles Watson, a public health doctor and former WA chief health officer, said he was appalled by the program.

“There’s a big PR campaign going on by all fossil fuel companies to make them sound better. This is commonly known as greenwashing, ”he said.

“They are trying to use our education system to soften the public on these issues by telling them that they are basically nice people and that oil and gas are not really a cause for concern.

“Whereas [climate change] is the greatest public threat we have ever faced.

“When you have a huge problem, like the fossil fuel industry has, every opportunity, every opportunity to improve your public personality is well worth it.”

Professor Watson said he intends to write to the WA Education Department urging them to stop allowing the program in public schools.

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In a statement, the schools’ deputy director general Melesha Sands said the state’s curriculum has a “balanced approach to teaching students about energy sources”.

“Woodside is one of the outside participants in Science Week teaching students the science behind drilling for oil to give them an idea of ​​where the current sources of energy come from,” she said.

“The Ministry of Education is working on a new sustainability framework to further examine how communities can help reverse the effects of climate change.”

The program is not the first corporate school initiative to raise concerns.

Many states have now shut down school banking programs after discovering that they offered limited educational value and exposed children to “sophisticated” marketing tactics.

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