Robogals: Bringing engineering to girls

Getting more girls involved in technical activities is not easy, but it is a good, good thing to be trying to achieve.

My mother-in-law studied engineering back in the 1950s when women were positively discouraged from choosing such a male undertaking. My brother-in-law studied engineering in the 1990s and while there was less active discouragement for women there wasn’t much positive reinforcement from a blokey, sexist environment. It is simply very difficult to get girls and women involved in engineering, programming, robotics or any such pursuits when so much of our society sees those activities as belonging to males. This is the problem which Robogals sets out to address.

Robogals is a student-run organisation at University of New South Wales (UNSW) that aims to engage schoolgirls in engineering topics from a young age, with the long-term goal of increasing female enrollment in engineering, science and technology courses at universities.

They run workshops for girls in the form of an excursion to UNSW. The service is free from their end, so the only cost to students is transportation to and from the Uni. And that’s a fantastic deal in this day and age.

Robogals was founded by Young Australian of the Year Marita Cheng. Cheng recently completed a Churchill Fellowship looking at Strategies to get girls interested in science, engineering and technology. Her report highlights several points including:

  • Teach through projects that are based on a story that highlights the ‘why’ or the usefulness of the activity to the real world to which girls can relate.
  • Self-confidence in a subject should be tackled before interest in a subject.
  • Girls don’t need competition to thrive.  Girls can thrive on collaborative and mission-based tasks that have goals to accomplish and achieve.
  • Girls should come out thinking, ‘It’s not rocket-science, and even if it were, no big deal.’

These ideas will be helping create a new Robogals workshop curriculum, a Robogals Club for girls with the aptitude for SET to pursue their interest, and a Robogals Camp. I’m thrilled I’ve just reached an agreement with my kids’ school to try out some of this on a group of girls later this term with a view to getting more girls involved with programming and robotics next year.

This is all really great stuff. I’m not an advocate of separate education for girls and boys: But the idea of giving girls the confidence to compete in a traditionally male space before bringing them together makes a great deal of sense to me.

It’s worth noting that Robogals isn’t only in Sydney. Full details at the Robogals website.

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