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Tuesday, 01 May 2012 17:43

SAP baits the IT skills hook


Software giant SAP has announced that it is extending its two year old Young ICT Explorers competition into NSW, with hopes to offer the programme to Victoria and Singapore next year as part of a bid to encourage school students to use technology creatively and also consider a career in ICT.

Open to students in years 4-12, the competition is specifically designed to be very broad, allowing students to submit just about any project that involves some elements of technological creativity for judging. Designed in association with the University of Queensland to stimulate innovation in schools, the programme is the brainchild of Dr Karsten Schulz, former head of SAP Research in Brisbane, and now research vice president based in Singapore.

Having entered a similar competition in Germany as a boy Dr Schulz believed YITCE could encourage an interest in IT among school students. For SAP the YICTE programme forms an important element of its corporate social responsibility initiatives.

In terms of the calibre and nature of entries to the competition, Tim Sleep, SAP general manager for NSW, said that younger participants tend to gravitate toward building websites, although these often feature interactive content. The senior winners of last year's competition however developed a novel approach to lossless audio compression.

Prizes on offer include iPads, iPods and book vouchers, with all participants receiving a 'goody bag' for their efforts. Travis Joy, the YICTE coordinator for NSW, said: 'The goal of this is to inspire students to take on ICT as a career.'

In NSW, the University of NSW is fulfilling a similar role to that played by the University of Queensland in terms of hosting and judging the finals of the competition.

Universities are particularly keen on programmes to raise the profile of ICT in schools. Over the last decade demand from students to study ICT or computer science has waned, forcing some universities to drop entrance requirements to attract students.

SAP's YICTE programme has also had some success in attracting girls to embrace ICT. In 2010, 30 per cent of the 140 participating students were girls; a proportion which rose to 46 per cent of the 171 students participating last year.

Mr Sleep said he believed that girls had been encouraged by the form of the competition which required teams to be formed where individuals played different roles. 'You don't have to be an IT geek to get involved.

'Technology is becoming so much more accessible.'

The persistent dearth of female ICT professionals is also exercising the chair of the Queensland branch of the Australian Information Industry Association, Maree Adshead who issued a media release today calling for more women to consider ICT careers. At present fewer than a quarter of employees in the ICT sector are women, and the percentage of ICT professionals who are women consistently hovers between 12 and 16 per cent.

The AIIA has also announced the formation of an education special interest group which will be led by Susi Steigler-Peters, the national general manager of education, enterprise and government at Telstra. Ms Steigler-Peters said that it was important that the IT industry work with educators to lift schools 'out of the dusty 20th Century to improve student learning outcomes and look at the selection of an IT related profession.'

She said that the almost total lack of science or engineering in primary education acted against girls' interest in technology careers. Although there were examples of women in technology they were often portrayed as almost 'heroic figures' and it was important to normalise women's participation in ICT.

At the same time she said it was important that the ICT industry and educators work together to ensure that pedagogies were developed which would embrace the use of technology to improve educational outcomes.

Further information about the SAP schools programme is available at www.youngICTexplorers.net.au

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