Tackling Australia’s STEM challenges 

Australia needs more youth to take up studies and careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to ensure our workforce and economy is ready for a digital future. Tata Consultancy Services is helping to address this challenge with market-leading programs such as GoIT and by working with our ecosystem of government, universities and not-for-profit partners to inspire more children and young people to enjoy STEM and be excited about the opportunities ahead.

Nanotechnologist and STEM consultant Dr Michelle Dickinson blew audiences away with an action-packed session at the TCS Summit Asia Pacific 2019.

Also known as “Nanogirl” Dr Dickinson’s organisation Nanogirl Labs is a social enterprise which uses kinesthetic-based learning, including fun and creative experiments, to help people to connect with and develop a meaningful relationship with STEM.

STEM education is for everyone!

Michelle started with emphasising on the fact that fewer Australian students are choosing STEM subjects. Nanogirl and TCS are working to turn the tide on this trend around. Nanogirl explained that as someone who came from a lower socio-economic background with fewer opportunities and having failed high-school she understood why access to STEM education was a challenge for many people. “Many people putting things in the complicated basket because it is in a language people don’t understand,” Nanogirl said. Her first experience with science began at the age of eight years, discovering the purpose of circuit boards by doing experiments at home. Much of her inspiration came from her father who changed the family’s lives by pursuing studies in electrical engineering in mid-life.
Discovery, tinkering, curiosity and play leads to deep learning,” she says. “Skills can be measured in different ways, it’s not just about reading and writing, it’s about doing. No-one told me that what I was doing was science.” Nanogirl went on to achieve a PhD in biomedical materials engineering and specialising in fracture mechanics and nanotechnology. She has worked for some of the world’s top tech companies throughout her 20 year career including Apple and Microsoft. Her life mission now is to make STEM accessible to everyone no matter their age, culture or socio-economic background.
The opportunities I had changed the direction of my life and I’m now dedicated to creating opportunities for other children.”

Steps towards diversity in STEM

Programs such as TCS’ GoIT Girls are one of the key reasons why there are record numbers of girls and women taking up studies and careers in STEM, but there’s still much to be done to improve gender diversity. As part of her work, Nanogirl conducted a survey asking 1000 school-age kids what an engineer looked like. Most of them drew a ‘old guy’, she says. Breaking stereotypes is critical to encouraging people to address the challenge of diversity. “When five-year-old girls do not believe they can be an engineer, it is a serious challenge that changes their future,” Nanogirl says. Nanogirl argues that it’s critical we encourage more young girls and tertiary-aged female students to pursue STEM subjects.“Throughout my career I have often been a minority in a room as a female engineer,” Nanogirl says.

Working together to boost STEM

TCS market-leading GoIT initiatives are working to improve STEM uptake and equip children and youth with the skills they need for the future. Much of TCS’ focus is particularly on helping disadvantaged youth. Like Nanogirl, TCS recognises that it’s important to inspire kids at a young age and to continue to encourage them throughout their education. This is why TCS’ program starts with primary school and goes all the way to tertiary education. Among TCS’ partners is the University of New South Wales. Bringing industry together with academics is helping to make a difference in addressing global challenges through the use of machine learning, virtual reality, robotics, data analytics and cloud computing.

GoIT has four key elements

GoIT Girls is inspiring the next generation of tech innovators, breaking down stereotypes and promoting diversity by giving female students in years 10 and 11 the chance to gain insights into exciting STEM-driven work experience program. Not only does the program provide support for developing their technical IT skills and an understanding of their future career possibilities, it also brings them together with senior women in the industry to learn about their experiences.

GoIT Mentoring provided by TCS in partnership, the Australian Business and Community Network, is bridging the gap for disadvantaged children and youth by giving them the chance to improve their STEM literacy with role models and mentors. Children who are lagging in math as early as Year 1 can access the program along with Year 7 students who can get help to build upon their STEM skills in order to solve problems. Year 9 students are also given the chance to advance their technical knowledge as well as build entrepreneurial skills through the program.

Like Nanogirl TCS’s GoIT Challenge is empowering Year 8 students to think differently about technology by taking a more interactive approach towards learning. Students learn the technical aspects but more importantly develop an understanding about how technology can be used to solve any community problem.

Future Leaders is supporting the next generation of leaders by helping them build networks and use their expertise and skills to harness the power of digital technologies to help create a fairer, more inclusive society.

As Nanogirl put it, diversity is important to innovation and bringing in different perspectives to products and services that people may not have thought about.
“Technology is going to be a part of everything we do. It will totally change our workforce. We need to make sure it is for everybody, not just tech nerds.”