Although the media is talking about it more than ever before, the fact of the matter is there remains deep levels of inequality of people who go to study and later go into careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). This inequality isn’t just related to gender (though let’s face it: we still need to get more young women into STEM – and to encourage them to say in STEM), either – large numbers of Maori and Pasifika students are also being disadvantaged.
Squiggle co-founder and director Ariana Paul says that’s a serious problem – and her company is doing something about it with its Young Engineers programme. “We have a whole big concern around our kids in terms of STEM,” she explains. “When you look at the uptake levels of our kids going into STEM at tertiary levels, it’s very few. And it’s quite elitist.”
Founded in 2014, Squiggle’s Young Engineers programme is a STEM-centred programme that run in schools and Kaupapa Maori. Taught in Te Reo and English, the programme is taught throughout terms as part of science curriculums, after school hours, and during the holidays at nearly 50 schools and Kaupapa Maori in the Waikato, South Auckland and Rotorua. “We’ve had to come up with a lot of new terms for engineering terms and concepts,” explains Paul of the challenges of running the programme in Te Reo Maori. “That’s been a challenge, but so rewarding.”
Essentially, the Young Engineers programme shows primarily primary school-aged pupils how fun, interesting, and rewarding a career in STEM can be, with engaging activities such as using Lego and other materials to demonstrate engineering principles. Paul says it’s based on a teaching model used in Israel, where young people are exposed to STEM at an early age in a fun, interactive way.
In getting the programme going and spreading to schools and Kaupapa Maori, local iwi support has been critical, Paul explains. “They’ve been huge!” she exclaims. “We’ve been so fortunate to have iwi support. It’s been a game-changer.”
With requests from all over Aotearoa to start Young Engineers programmes, Paul says she and fellow co-founder Jeanne Kerr have been thrilled at the interest from educators, parents and students. And while an Innovation Awards win is nice, she’s not shy about explaining there’s a much nobler purpose than some shiny hardware that people should be focusing on if they want innovation to even be possible in the future. “Children are our future,” she says. “We’ve got a really big economy that’s bursting at the seams with an ageing population. It needs the people to keep going.”
Great to see an adaptation of an Israeli programme to Kaupapa Maori in Te Reo and other languages reflective of New Zealand’s diversity of cultures.