The State Government has thrown its support behind eight community STEM projects with the announcement of more than $700,000 of funding.
Each initiative aims to bring Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths education to new audiences, including women, Aboriginal Australians and people living in remote communities.
Science Minister Dave Kelly said the government wanted to make sure every Western Australian had the chance to develop STEM skills.
“By supporting STEM education service providers outside the formal education system, we are opening up more avenues for Western Australians to build their skills and gain employment in a STEM future,” he said.
Recipients include the City of Belmont who received $21,896 for a filmmaking program to spark young peoples’ interest in STEM, and mapping company Winyama who have been given $70,000 for a series of Indigenous mapping workshops.
Cash for coding
She Codes received the largest share of the pie, being awarded $210,000 to expand their programs to a series of week-long workshops across the state to help women of all ages better understand the opportunities available in the tech.
The funding has also created five additional places in their six-month job-ready program, run in partnership with BHP.
Founder Kate Kirwin said being able to grow their reach gives WA a competitive edge when it comes to engaging women in tech.
“We already don’t have enough programs and for women particularly there just aren’t the opportunities … to really bridge that gender gap, particularly in regional areas as well,” she said.
“A lot of the programs that currently exist aren’t flexible enough, so they’re full-time boot camps that require you to quit your job and focus full-time on learning … which doesn’t work for everyone.
“We are sort of the first in this program space of having a structured pathway to get from that beginner level, sparking enthusiasm and joy and getting all the way through to one week [programs], six months, and then job opportunities.”
Reaching out to the regions
Fire Tech Australia was awarded $147,007 for a partnership with the Wirrpanda Foundation and Curtin University’s Autism Research Group to help spark the interest of Indigenous teenagers across the state.
Managing Director Andrea Conte said the funding would allow the organisation to reach students they couldn’t before.
“We’re very excited,” he said.
“The idea with this program is to have a multi-touch-point environment where we come in and run courses which are aimed at promoting digital literacy, sparking an interest and then going on from that interest and developing actual programs and projects.
“Alongside this, we’ll be running a number of ‘train-the-trainer’ courses so that the Wirrpanda Foundation will be able to engage with these programs and with this audience long after the grant has run out.
“What we’d really like to see out of all this program is that the future great app that comes out of Western Australia has an Aboriginal backing.”
He said the funding is important because Aboriginal students are often forgotten in the STEM education conversation.
“Kids nowadays are digital citizens, kids of all backgrounds, but Aboriginal children aren’t provided with the same opportunities as other audiences,” he said.
“It’s very important to provide these opportunities and create an environment where they can come in, learn, enjoy themselves and foster real interest.”
Kirwin said she was pleased to see the government helping to extend the reach of proven community programs.
“I think it’s great to see government supporting things that are already successful and having good outcomes and being able to grow them,” she said.
“That’s what we’re really seeing from this round of funding.”
Conte said without the government’s support, the project would have been little more than a dream.
“The government should be saluted for their efforts,” he said.
“The ability for organisations to get funding to be able to run these programs is simply impossible to do otherwise.”