Schoolgirl with tablet PC

Microsoft, Maynooth University collaboration to tackle digital inequality

Girls living in underserved communities to gain access to STEM Passport
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24 January 2022

In a first-of-its-kind collaboration, Microsoft Ireland and Maynooth University have joined forces to address digital inequality in education and increase the number of girls engaging in science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) subjects.

The collaboration, centred on the Digital Wealth and STEM Passport for Inclusion projects, is designed to further strengthen Ireland’s future talent pipeline, and reinforce the country’s digital leadership.

The Digital Wealth project is a school outreach programme, which aims to address digital poverty and increase the digital capacity of over 1,000 students across Ireland who currently have restricted access to technology and digital skills. The project will also focus on upskilling 300 teachers with the digital skills required to introduce coding and computational design to the classroom.

 

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The Microsoft Dream Space team will deliver hands-on sessions to students around Artificial Intelligence, design thinking and computational thinking and teachers will have the opportunity to learn new teaching strategies focused on STEM and accessibility. Furthermore, the Microsoft Dream Space team will deliver a STEM based module to a cohort of students within the School of Education in Maynooth University, designed to empower them as student teachers to deliver enhanced STEM based lessons whilst on placement in the participating Digital Wealth schools.

On top of Microsoft Ireland’s investment, the Digital Wealth Project was the recent recipient of €450,000 as part of the Rethink Ireland Education Innovation Fund Awards. The programme brings together the digital learning expertise of the Microsoft Ireland education team, as well as best practice developed by researchers at Maynooth University.

Some 45 schools across Ireland will participate in the programme over three years, 13 of which will be schools designated under the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) initiative. A needs analysis will take place in early 2022 to ensure schools receive the interventions they require, whether it be skills, hardware, or infrastructure, to support teachers in online learning and ensure that their students can engage fully in a digital world.   

The collaboration will also see the roll-out of the STEM Passport for Inclusion project. This new initiative will support 1,000 girls between fourth and sixth year from disadvantaged communities to progress into STEM courses and pursue a career in the digital economy.

The STEM Passport for Inclusion project was developed due to the low number of girls from disadvantaged backgrounds entering STEM related careers. With the World Economic Forum estimating that 90% of all jobs in 2030 will require digital skills, and extensive research by the LSE and others indicating that girls from disadvantaged backgrounds are least likely to enter STEM careers, there is a clear need to ensure that every young person is given the opportunity to engage in STEM education and become a digital leader into the future.

The STEM Passport, which is also supported by SFI Discover, Prodigy Learning, Accenture and RDI Hub, offers girls the opportunity to complete an accredited Microsoft Dream Space module via Maynooth University that equips students with the knowledge and experience to help them follow a pathway to complete a STEM degree at third level.

The girls will also have the opportunity to participate in a remote mentoring programme with women who work across the disciplines in the STEM industry, as well as access to an online platform detailing all STEM-related courses around Ireland. Female leaders from Microsoft Ireland are some of those volunteering as part of the mentoring initiative.

“Digital technology now plays a pivotal role in everyday teaching and learning, however, many school communities continue to lack the skills, infrastructure, and support to realise the benefits,” said James O’Connor, vice president of Microsoft International Operations.

“At Microsoft, we are committed to helping address the digital skills gaps and digital poverty inequalities that exist so that every young person has the opportunity to engage in STEM education and understand how technology can shape their world. That’s why we’ve joined forces with Maynooth University. By working together, our ambition is to help close the gap between those with the knowledge, skills, and access to digital technology and those without.

“And with the research showing us that girls are less likely than boys to move into STEM, the STEM Passport for Inclusion project is enabling us to place a specific focus on creating new pathways for girls in STEM so they can play an active role in building tomorrow’s world. I’m confident that by industry, higher education, and school communities working together to address digital inequalities, which have become all too clear amidst the pandemic, we can build a more inclusive Ireland while strengthening Ireland’s digital leadership.”

Dr Katriona O’Sullivan, Department of Psychology at the Assisting Living and Learning (ALL) Institute Maynooth University, said: “I am thrilled to see this collaboration between Maynooth University and Microsoft Ireland announced today. The Digital Wealth project is a vitally important initiative that will play a critical role in helping to address the many forms of digital poverty that exist.

“We’ve all seen over the course of the past two years how important technology has been to enabling education to continue, despite physical schools often being closed and frequent periods of self-isolation. As well as ensuring that students have the skills to fill the digital roles of the future, addressing the digital divide will also ensure that schools across Ireland have the flexibility and agility they need to adapt to future periods of possible disruption.

“At Maynooth University, we are very much looking forward to collaborating with Microsoft Ireland on this initiative, as well as the STEM Passport for Inclusion, which aims to enhance STEM-related opportunities for 1,000 girls from working class communities across Ireland by the end of 2022.”

See here for more information on the STEM Passport for Inclusion while additional details of the Digital Wealth project can be found here.

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