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23 Nov 2017

Professor Doherty encourages young women in STEM at Statewide Debating Tournament

A team of six girls from Clifton Hill Primary School has shown off their debating skills, taking home state bragging rights at the Primary School Statewide Tournament, held at the University of Melbourne. 

Hosted in partnership with the Debaters Association of Victoria (DAV), more than 60 students aged 11 and 12 years old competed in a round-robin style event debating Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) related topics. 

With debating a popular choice for girls, Dr Heidi Tscherning from the University’s School of Computing and Information Systems (CIS) said the topics were designed to spark children’s interest and also reflect issues in emerging technologies.

“Debating makes children reason, critically assess and then communicate effectively,” Dr Tscherning said.

“With topics ranging from ‘should maths and science be compulsory subjects?’ to ‘should video surveillance be in all public places?’, it’s all about reaching out to students, in particular girls, and getting them to engage in STEM in a different way. We hope these events inspire students to consider STEM subjects as they continue through to high school and tertiary education.” 

The 1996 Nobel Prize winner Professor Peter Doherty gave the keynote speech, encouraging a captive audience of some of the best young critical thinkers in the state to “stay with mathematics.” 

“Mathematics is such a benefit, even if you go into medicine, biology or another science,” Professor Doherty said.  “But you mustn’t discount English. Even if you do plan to go into a STEM field, you need good communication skills, no matter what pathway you take.” 

In the final secret topic round, students debated ‘Should computers replace teachers?’

The winning team from Clifton Hill Primary School argued the negative. “Fortunately for us lecturers, they drew on the unique, holistic responsiveness that human teachers can give,” said Dr Suelette Dreyfus from CIS. 

Dr Dreyfus said these types of events are vital for getting children engaged in STEM subjects from a young age.

“We need to engage children early to capture their imagination and encourage them to learn skills of the future,” said Dr Dreyfus. 

“The beauty of this age group is that while they have started to reason like a young adult, they can still imagine with all the boundless creativity of a child.” 

Source: ​Debating Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths a hit for girls, The Melbourne Engineer