Search for the Next Tech Girl Superhero Competition: Changing the way girls perceive and engage in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)
Tech Girls Movement Foundation (TGMF)
Adolescents, Disadvantaged socio-economic contexts, Entrepreneurship, Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), Teaching materials
Career counselling and professional development, Formal education and school contexts, Non-formal education and extracurricular contexts, Prizes, competitions and special events, Role models and mentoring
Australia, New Zealand
According to research, although girls often tend to perform at the same level as boys in science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM) areas, as early as middle school they begin to veer off from these career paths due to a lack of educational support and a fear of failure. Many authors and papers report that the gender disparities in STEM fields can be improved using outreach programmes, including single-sex programmes like the Search for the Next Tech Girl Superhero.
What is your superpower? Tech Girls Are Superheroes is the signature campaign of the Australian non-profit Tech Girls Movement Foundation (TGMF). The campaign breaks down outdated STEM stereotypes, presenting real-life women in STEM as superhero characters who change the world. Some 80,000 free books featuring these women superheros have been distributed to schools and individuals across Australia and New Zealand – one in every Australian school. Girls can also compete to enter into the Search for the Next Tech Girl Superhero, a 12-week STEM entrepreneurship programme.
Now in its sixth year, the SNTGS programme is changing the way girls perceive and engage in STEM. Engaging girls aged 7 to 17, the programme applies problem-solving skills through a social, business and technical lens to produce high-quality business plans, pitch videos and working app prototypes. By introducing STEM pathways and role models, and connecting teams with women mentors, girls build skills, confidence, and courage through teamwork and mentoring. The successful annual Search for the Next Tech Girl Superhero competition has grown from 16 girls in the first year in 2014, to more than 1,000 girls consistently for the past three years across Australia and New Zealand. The goal of the Tech Girls Movement Foundation is to engage 10,000 girls directly in STEM entrepreneurship by 2020. This target is reachable.
As a result of increased growth in the programme over six years, in 2019 the TGMF introduced a $50.00 per student entry fee. Prior to this, entry into the competition had been free. This entry fee helps to cover increased costs associated with administering the competition. TGMF still offers free entry to those students with financial hardship, low socio-economic status or living in rural or remote areas. TGMF does not wish the entry fee to be a barrier to any girl wishing to participate in the competition.
Since 2017, TGMF has administered both pre- and post-competition surveys to all participant groups (girls, mentors and coaches). The post-competition survey aims to evaluate the impact and success of girls’ participation in the Search for the Next Tech Girl Superhero competition, specifically:
The impact of participation in the competition on girls’ self-perception and career perception in relation to STEM, and on their intention to pursue further studies and careers in STEM-related fields. The evaluation is based on well-established research in this area.
Girls’ perceptions of the curriculum areas. The evaluation did not attempt to measure objective improvements in skills because of wide variations in curriculum, facilities and teacher practices.
Issues, benefits and challenges related to the participation in the competition.
Our research tells us that 78% of girls who have participated in the Search for the Next Tech Girl Superhero programme are more likely to consider a career in STEM, and 69% of them are more likely to start their own business after completing the programme.
A participant shared: “Tech girl superheroes has taught me that I can do whatever I want in the future…This competition has influenced my life greatly and I have become a more confident, better person because of it.”
Another reflected: “The benefits that I have gained from participating in this competition have definitely been time management and organization. Also developing new skills that I can apply to many other things such as my vocabulary, speaking on the spot, persuading, my writing skills and other larger topics I had no idea about, such as potential revenues and other elements within the business plan. Other benefits I have also gained from this competition are qualities such as commitment, trust, teamwork, prioritising and thinking about the bigger picture.”
Since its inception, the competition has been run in over 500 schools throughout Australia and New Zealand. Due to its relevance to the Australian Digital Technologies curriculum, some innovative teachers and schools have embedded the competition into their teaching.
Each year sees returning teams, coaches and mentors, demonstrating the positive nature of individual involvement in the programme. The programme also calls on girls to identify and solve a problem in their local community. Most solutions formed are solved through the development of innovative apps. Alumni from the programme have developed their apps further with some being sold on web app stores.
The programme is engaging young girls to identify issues that are of importance to them and build a solution accordingly. Girls in the programme are developing key personal skills as well as developing business acumen and rapport with industry experts.
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