Curious minds wonder alike
First national program to mentor schoolgirls with women leaders in STEM
It is a concerning issue in today’s high-tech world that secondary school STEM units of science, technology, engineering and maths are still overwhelmingly dominated by boys. Boys outnumber girls in Year 12 physics by three to one and almost twice as many boys than girls study advanced mathematics in Year 12, according to a recent study*. Moreover, recent international testing has found Australian girls’ performance in science and maths is falling behind boys by at least a third of a school year. Even though popular culture tends to promote women in scientific roles – for instance, Dr Temperance Brennan in television show Bones and Dr Jemma Simmons among others in Marvel’s Agent of Shield – girls are seemingly finding it hard to identify with STEM subjects and careers.
Although the total number of Year 12 enrolments in Australia is increasing, enrolments in traditional STEM subjects are declining. This is why it is important to encourage programs such as the National Curious Minds Learning and Mentoring program for girls in STEM. Starting this year on 9 December, 54 schoolgirls from more than 20 regional towns and every capital city across Australia will participate in Curious Minds at the Australian National University in Canberra. This pioneering program aims to help redress girls’ declining engagement in STEM subjects at high school.
The government-funded program will help Year 8, 9 and 10 school girls from diverse backgrounds to meet and be mentored by one of 124 women working in the science industry and engineering fields. Selected on their performance in three national secondary school based STEM competitions, the students will spend four days at the Australian National University for an intensive week of learning in physics, informatics, chemistry, biology, mathematics and earth and environmental sciences. There, they will also meet their mentors with whom they will work over a six month period.
Preference has been given to girls from rural, disadvantaged and Indigenous areas and backgrounds.
“Some of these highly capable girls have never had an opportunity to take part in this kind of extended learning, but now federal government funding has opened up this opportunity for them,” says Kyi Muller, Program Director, Curious Minds.
The program will put students in touch with inspiring Australian women in science, including: the 2013 Life Scientist of the Year, Professor Angela Moles; young innovators such as Microsoft technical evangelist Esther Mosad; and women working in fields as diverse as astrophysics, renewable energy and visual science communication.
“This program is all about helping to remove the barriers that are hindering our young women from excelling in science and maths at school, as well as opening up opportunities for them to consider study and careers in STEM,” says Dr Cathy Foley, Patron, Curious Minds.
Interestingly, STEM skilled jobs are growing at 1.5 times faster than any other job sector (Australian Bureau of Statistics). However, an incredible 44% of Australian employers report difficulties in recruiting STEM-qualified technicians and trade specialists, according to Australian Industry Group’s ”Progressing STEM Skills in Australia” report, March 2015. This demand makes it ever more crucial to encourage girls, half of our working population, towards STEM fields.
Curious Minds is funded by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, and the Department of Education and Training through the Restoring the Focus on STEM program. The Australian Mathematics Trust and Australian Science Innovations jointly administer Curious Minds. These organisations also reach thousands of talented students and involve hundreds of teachers and schools in the Science and Mathematics Olympiad programs.
* “The continuing decline of science and mathematics in Australian high schools”, Kennedy, Lyons and Quinn, Vol. 60, No. 2, 2014
WORDS: Alana Lopez
IMAGE: Camberwell Girls Grammar School
News & Advice
Gratitude given to science teachers
TWO science teachers were presented with the 2015 Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science award last week, for excellence in scientific research, innovation and teaching.
The winners, including Ken Silburn from CasulaHigh School in NSW and Rebecca Johnson from WindarooStateSchool in QLD, were congratulated by the Prime Minister and Minister Christopher Pyne at the Great Hall of Parliament House.
Nominated for actively increasing student science participation, Silburn said he was able to spark student engagement through extension programs and practical, interactive activities.
“I’m very proud of the achievement of our school. Getting so many students to choose to study science shows that what we’re doing in the junior school is working,” he told Science In Public.
Meanwhile teacher Rebecca Johnson took out the prize for her model on teaching science in primary schools.
Fifteen years in the making, her teaching model aims to improve the quality of science subjects and involves the teacher educating students in science classes every week.
“I don’t think I could love a job more than I love teaching science,” she said.
“I encourage my students to use their prior knowledge, and to show me just how much they know.”
Words: Chanel Zagon
Image: Assumption College
News & Advice
Melbourne – The City For Students
International survey affirms Melbourne as a cultural and educational hub
Melbourne’s position as the cultural capital of Australia has been confirmed and complemented by our ranking as the second best student city in the world and the best city for student diversity.
A recent survey by QS Top Universities gave Melbourne this flattering rating but our area of excellence was for welcoming International Students into our student population.
The fabric of Australia has cultural diversity deeply woven in and this cultural heartbeat beats stronger in nowhere other than Melbourne.
Our student population is a testament to this with the City of Melbourne citing that almost 55% of students living and studying in our city are International.
Paris led the QS Top Universities ratings as the best city in the world to be a student but impressively, Melbourne bumped London from second place.
While we may not have an Eiffel Tower or a thriving crepe industry, Melbourne’s diverse range of universities can offer something for everybody.
A historically interesting building at Melbourne University is as charming as RMIT is innovative and spunky. Meanwhile, Monash explicitly welcomes International Students with a whole day of celebration dedicated to them.
In general, the survey looked at a range of criteria including pollution, safety and cultural tolerance so in general, Melbourne is ticking a lot of boxes.
So whether you are from Australia or abroad, you can feel that little bit better about the university grind knowing that, as Melbournian uni students, we almost have it the best in the world.
Words: Georgina Owen
News & Advice
Helping Parents Keep Their Children Cybersafe
Protect-A-Child offers an innovative technological solution to the growing problem of cyber-bullying
With the internet, smartphones and social networking sites, children and young people are entrenched in a digital world. These technologies can be invaluable assets to a child’s learning and development as they provide no shortage of interesting information from around the globe with just the click of a mouse or a tap of a touch screen. However these technologies also make children more susceptible to what can be described as bullying of the 21st century.
Cyber-bullying is the act of using the internet, email and text messages to harm other people in a deliberate, repeated and hostile manner. This risky behaviour can be damaging to a child’s state of mind and can result in a child no longer feeling safe in what should be a comforting and welcoming environment. In January last year alone, Victorian schoolgirl Sheniz Erkan took her life after being a victim of both cyber and schoolyard bullying.
In 2012 Protect-a-Child successfully delivered an innovative technological solution to the growing problem of cyber-bullying. The first of its kind, the cloud-based tool allows parents to monitor their child’s activity across various social media networks and alerts them to any potential cyber-bullying risks. Operating via a database of recognised keywords, and fully customisable in terms of severity, the system notifies parents of any inappropriate or abusive language as well as any attempt at coded conversations that could indicate cyber-bullying.
The Community Crowd Protection (CCP) feature prompts parents to verify the true identity of any new individual that their child connects with on social media. Working as an online ‘Neighbourhood Watch’ scheme, the CCP feature makes these verifications visible to all PAC subscribers, so should another child connect to the individual, parents can rest assured that the verified connection is a legitimate peer.
PAC Founder and CEO, Jason Edwards, believes that the launch of the tool and its development throughout 2012 sees a real breakthrough in the fight against cyber-bullying.
“We believe that through technology, we have produced a product that can arm parents with the tools required to protect their children from the agony of cyber-bullying,” says Mr Edwards. “PAC will pick up any words and images that relate to bullying, drugs, alcohol and depression while the CCP feature gives parents the power to decipher unknown people.
“These days’ children see having a large amount of friends on social networking sites as a competition and are innocently letting strangers into their lives. You can lock your house up as tight as you like, but your children may be unknowingly inviting strangers into your home.”
PAC provides real-time awareness while safeguarding the privacy of their children. It does not hack or violate the privacy of children but rather works as a search tool that analyses posts and provides parents with accurate awareness of the existence of content that can be harmful to their child’s safety, reputation, or standing in the community.
“It is important for parents to understand that we are not the sole answer to this issue,” says Mr Edwards. “In order for PAC to work there needs to be 40 per cent implementation, 40 per cent communication and 20 per cent product. Tackling this issue is about partnership and trust between the parent and the child – the child needs consent for the product to be used.”
PAC is currently working with internet Safety experts Brett Lee and Susan Hall to create website content for those parents and teachers. They have also partnered up with not-for-profit Australian anti-bullying organisation Angels Goal to combat the issue of bullying in schools.
For more information of Protect-a-Child visit www.protectachild.com.au.
Image: Geelong Grammar School