There is an incorrect assumption that digital natives are digitally literate. Although they have grown up with technology, they do not necessarily have the skills to support our digitally-fueled economies. Beyond using apps, they struggle to create financial formulas in Excel or navigate a computer’s file management system — essential skills in today’s workplaces.
This is a worldwide trend, one that will impact our future economies’ technological advancement. It was highlighted by a recent Australian Digital Pulse Report that indicates “little more than 60% of Year 6 (11-year-old) and Year 10 (15-year-old) students in Australia reached or exceeded the proficient standard for IT literacy in 2011.”
An ambitious goal
At the Tech Girls Movement Foundation, we are creating a workforce that is capable of building the technology of the future. Through our Tech Girls Are Superheroes campaign, which highlights real-life women who are changing the world with technology, we are actively changing the image of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) industries. We are empowering the next generation of technology leaders to solve the world’s problems.
Our STEM outreach program, Search for the Next Tech Girl Superhero, empowers young people to solve generational problems. Teams of female students (7-17 years old) identify a problem in their local community, research solutions, propose a unique idea, build a prototype of their solution as an app, and then pitch their innovation to a panel of judges.
The program aims to give girls technical experience, provide potential commercial success, and inspire them to pursue careers in STEM. We are building entrepreneurial interest and, subsequently, the skills of Australia and New Zealand’s future workforce. In the last four years, the Tech Girls Are Superheroes campaign has established itself as an industry leader.
Since its inception, the program has engaged 1650 girls, matching them with 400+ industry female mentors who have volunteered more than 6000 hours of their time. More than 1000 girls participated in 2017.
Over the past four years, we have inspired nearly 2000 girls directly in our 12-week STEM entrepreneurship program. When they complete the experience, they walk away with an application prototype, a business plan, and a public pitch video; tools they’ll need as they pursue their future careers.
More than being technologically savvy, our participants have shown an interest in a wide range of topics. Most recently, they’ve pitched ideas to address mental illness, anxiety, and teenage suicide.
Many apps rely on our sharing economy, such as Pawsout, which connects dog owners with teenagers who need exercise. Team Helpa’s app connects homeless people with those in society who want to lift them out of poverty. The V-Link app connects charities with retired people who want to contribute their knowledge and expertise. Others apps cover a broad spectrum, such as Evac-u-buddy in Wellington, which helps people evacuate in the face of crisis or natural disaster.
What works best in our program is that young people own the problem they identify, and that they have the tools to solve them on their own. Girls build their business and technology skills, but most of all, gain confidence in knowing they can solve important problems in the community and around the world. Key to our program is the matching of teams with female industry mentors; they’re starting to form strong professional relationships!
I am excited to appear on the next Women Rock-IT live TV broadcast on Thursday, 15 March at 12 pm (UTC+8), joined by five of our recent winners of the 2017 National Primary School STEM Entrepreneurship program: Courtney, Emi, Isabelle, Jasmine, and Milla.
Now entering Year 7 at school, the SunFun Team will travel with us to Silicon Valley in August to pitch their app on a global stage.