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Mya* came to the Communicare Academy in year seven needing extra support in school due to significant anxiety issues. After four years with us, Mya has not only improved her wellbeing and confidence, she has taken the opportunity to re-engage with learning, allowing her inquisitive and creative personality to flourish.

The Communicare Academy is a Curriculum and Re-engagement in Education School, providing year 7-12 students with a unique approach to re-engagement in their education journey, focusing on wellbeing and education support. This includes flexible learning options and modified curriculums to re-engage students at-risk of falling through the cracks.

During Youth Week, April 14-21, as a society we need to renew our focus on engaging girls in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) subjects to address the current gender imbalance in these fields.

Mya has always enjoyed art, especially experimenting with different painting methods. Last year she decided to challenge herself and use her skills to build a robot as part of our Robotics Program, which encourages young people to explore the world of science and technology.

Despite having no experience of construction and building robots, she took on the challenge solo. Instantly, I could see a difference in the way she approached the challenge that lay in front of her.

Mya took time and care with details, spending a number of lessons on one part of the robot to make sure it would do what she wanted it to. This was unlike the boys, who quickly put together a structure that had to be tried and adjusted a couple of times before it was strong enough. Her robot also looked different to what the boys created.

One of the major challenges for educators is to inspire students to learn. To look beyond what’s immediately in front of them and to dream of the possibilities. At Communicare we talk about Creating Futures – to inspire a sense of hope and opportunity.

Our STEM program engages students in investigation and problem-solving. Our teachers act as facilitators, assisting with strategies and resources, rather than simply providing answers.

This allows students to take a relaxed approach. Rather than feeling pressured to find the ‘correct’ answers, they can investigate a problem using their specific strengths. This approach helps meets the very different needs of our students, many whom struggle with traditional education and learning methods.

This approach to problem solving very much resembles real life, setting students up with valuable and highly transferable life and work skills.

STEM opportunities are the fastest growing areas of workplace expertise in our modern society and it’s vital we inspire girls to participate in these fields, so that they have equal career opportunities as boys.

According to the Department of Industry, Science and Resources, in September 2022, confidence in STEM subjects among girls is generally lower than boys and it continues to fall as they get older. Women only make up 36% of enrolments in university STEM courses, and just 16% of enrolments in vocational STEM courses. Women only make up 27% of the workforce across all STEM industries, a one percentage point drop from 2020’.

By involving girls in STEM, we give them a chance for equal opportunity, greater economic security and will hopefully see the gender pay gap shrink. We will create a far more diverse workforce in STEM fields, including the range of products and services produced.

At the Academy we offer STEM classes five days a week. Students can learn how to build and program robots and we also offer computer coding, with access to various software programs. The school also has two 3D printers that we are introducing as an alternative to building robots.

To further inspire and motivate students, we offer STEM projects for students who have a special interest. For example, if they show an interest in electric circuits, they can build a solar-powered car. One of the girls in my class has an interest in the mechanical function of machines, so we provide her with old pieces like ceiling fans that she can take apart to learn how they are constructed.

Of course, most students like to build robots and by the end of each term we have a ‘Robot War’. Students compete with their robots against each other, providing an opportunity to have fun, and to show what they’ve achieved during the term.

Mya finished her first robot and eagerly participated in the Robot War, taking second place. She was competing against students who had been doing this for a much longer time.

Mya’s resilience and creativity made her robot unique from the other robots. She took time building the robot to her specific plans and the final product was a robot with a strong structure. Her dedication and desire to learn meant she quickly picked up the skills and harnessed her unique creativity to build an impressive robot in just 10 weeks.

It’s a slow process to break the bias, but Mya is just one amazing example of what girls can achieve given the opportunity, support and encouragement. We need more girls like her; girls with a unique approach to technical challenges and a desire to create great outcomes.

The time is now to shine a light on this largely untapped resource and invest in our girls to ensure a bright and progressive future in the world of STEM.

*Name changed to protect privacy


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