Girls4Tech and STEM for all at Coolest Projects

29 May 2018

Robyn and Cara learn to crack the code from Mastercard’s Amy Neale at Coolest Projects. Image: Luke Maxwell

With thousands of visitors to Coolest Pojects, event sponsor Mastercard took the opportunity to bridge the gender gap with its award-winning education programme.

Coolest Projects is the major annual event of the CoderDojo movement, where hundreds of young coding ‘ninjas’ showcase their work and a lucky few go home with awards.

More than 10,000 visitors passed through the RDS on 26 May to check out the projects as well as have some fun with interactive displays dedicated to all things STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths).

A stage running throughout the event hosted demonstrations as well as discussions on topics such as parenting and educating in the digital age, and the problematic numbers of girls in STEM.

Amy Neale, vice-president of Mastercard Start Path, was one of the voices on the ‘Girls in STEM’ panel. “There’s a load of research that suggests that girls learn differently to boys,” she said as we caught up afterwards to further discuss the points she had raised.

Neale explained that this research indicates that girls learn more through collaboration and are really concerned about how technology can be impactful and meaningful. “They want to see the difference technology can make in the world,” she said.

200,000 girls by 2020

“We had looked into that research ourselves, and some of the engineers across Mastercard put together a curriculum taking those factors into account to enable girls to learn about technology in new ways.”

The result is the Girls4Tech programme. Launched in 2014, the award-winning education initiative teaches the foundations of STEM principles through workshops tailored for how girls learn.

Thousands of visitors to Coolest Projects had the opportunity to see this programme in action. The Mastercard stand was decked out as a Girls4Tech space, but all the eager young kids attending were invited to take on the interactive challenges.

They could do their best impression of a World War II codebreaker or get hands-on with some props and games to help them understand cryptology and logical thinking.

“It’s been mad!” said Tammy Hawkins, another Mastercard VP helping out at the event. “We’ve had a busy booth all day long. We’ve taught hundreds of young folks about cryptology and algorithms today.”

But the numbers don’t stop at engaging Coolest Projects attendees. “We’ve set a target as a company to have 200,000 girls go through our Girls4Tech programme by 2020,” said Neale.

For Neale, the reason companies such as Mastercard will continue addressing the STEM pipeline for girls in particular is simple: it improves the bottom line and other important metrics.

“Basically, companies that have diversity between boys and girls [and] have a good gender balance do better,” she said.

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.