Year 8 students from the Robotics Club at Southern River College hone their skills. (ABC News: Brian Shepherd)
A school in the south-east of Perth is working to boost the future workforce in key areas of science and technology by engaging students through robotics.
Science, technology, engineering and maths — known as STEM subjects — are said to teach people the skills and knowledge needed for 75 per cent of the fastest growing occupations.
Yet despite children being more engaged with technology than ever before, recent studies have shown the number of Australian students in the STEM area is decreasing.
The Robotics Club at Southern River College in Gosnells, about 20 kilometres from Perth, has been running since 2012 — and is already having positive results.
“Many of the students have gone on to pursue similar interests in further study,” Southern River’s deputy principal Mike Erith said.
“And it’s not just the technology skills.
“There’s all those other higher order skills: the collaboration, leadership, problem solving and team work.”
The group meets once a week for two hours after school over two semesters.
Students are given specific missions, which they have to complete through building and programming their robots.
The previous group of students came fifth in a robotics competition at Macquarie University in March — which Mr Erith said was a wonderful achievement.
“That group loved the program so much they’ve even come to me and told me they wanted to start their own club,” he said.
“It shows when you open their minds and get that aspect of inquisitiveness in their learning — combined with joyful learning — they’ll want to make it their own. It’s a win, win.”
Everyone deserves the chance to enter STEM field
The program at Southern River is facilitated through The Smith Family, an education-based charity for children.
WA general manager Ian Moore said people of all backgrounds and gender should be given the opportunity to enter what is fast becoming the job market of the future.
“If we look at students in lower socio-economic backgrounds — compared to those in higher socio-economic backgrounds — there is a schooling gap in terms of performance in maths and science-related subjects when we get to Year 9 of about three years,” he said.
“So some students can be three years behind.”
He said the way the program worked was by first grabbing the students’ imagination — while also delivering a number of skills needed for further study and work in the field.
Mr Moore said there needed to be more access to STEM subjects for everyone — especially considering the current fear of a shortage of key science and technology workers down the track.
“Essentially what we’ve got is a huge cohort of kids and young people that aren’t being given the opportunity to take up careers in science and technology,” he said.
“And there is absolutely no reason not to include girls in that.”
Year 8 student Alexis Gidman is one of three girls in the group at Southern River College.
She said she had always had an interest in the area so signed up right away.
“I want to build limbs for people that have missing ones,” she said
“So they can do everything they need to for everyday life.”
Dylan Pudwell wants to be a forensic scientist, and said he found the club had helped him in other areas.
“It’s helped me with my maths, given me practice with the maths skills,” he said.
“And really helped with how I solve problems.”