01 Oct 2015
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There's a new initiative in town, with big plans for Kiwi students

By Catherine Knowles

A new initiative has launched in New Zealand, with the aim of getting Kiwi students excited about technology - aptly named OMGTech!.

The not-for-profit education initiative was launched last night at a function at SparkHQ in Auckland, and was founded by Vaughan Rowsell of Vend, and Michelle Dickinson - also known as Nanogirl.

Over the next three years OMGTech! will run a nationwide event series targeting primary and intermediate schools across New Zealand.

The goal is to reach 16 regions, 30 events, 2000 schools and 200,000 kids, and fulfill its mission to open up the world of future tech to every Kiwi kid.

The events offer a hands-on approach to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) skills development that complements other initiatives and works with kids, teachers and communities to inspire a new generation of tech masters and entrepreneurs.

Dickinson says, "Kids love to explore and play and invent and innovate. It is just part of being a kid, being curious and not knowing any boundaries to imagination.

“However, the really big ideas that will shape our future are in the heads of our kids and the technology that will enable them to make these dreams reality is still inaccessible to many.

“OMGTech! aims to bridge the digital divide and enable all kids to get access to the wonders of technology, in turn helping develop New Zealand's future digital workforce and creators.”

Rowsell adds, “As a young New Zealander I was incredibly fortunate my mother fostered and supported my interest in technology.

“Not everyone has that chance because while curiosity is innate, opportunity is not. Our hope is that OMG Tech! can create a sense of excitement about what is possible, build a sustainable support network and act as a catalyst for long-term change.”

According to the OMGTech! team, there are simply not enough young New Zealanders getting into STEM-based education.

In particular, there is an acute shortage in terms of female, Maori and Pacifica participation. This, in turn, is leading to significant skills shortages in the workforce at a time when technology skills are increasingly be needed to help resolve some of New Zealand's biggest challenges.

Research shows that approximately 80% of jobs in the next decade will require some STEM skills.

The need to get kids interested early is evident from the fact that three in five university students made their decision to study STEM in Intermediate or even earlier, says OMGTech!.

The initiative has attracted support from a growing coalition of organisations who see this as an important investment in New Zealand’s digital future.

Various organisations have displayed their support for the initiative, including Spark, Huawei, Accenture, Fuji Xerox, Network for Learning (N4L), Vend, Touchcast, Baldwins, Clemenger Group, IAG, Microsoft, Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco, Shine, Red Hat, Aurecon, Ericsson, Infosys, Halo Consulting and Office Max.

In fact, N4L has announced OMGTech! programmes will be available on Pond, the online learning hub, with the aim to make them more accessible for Kiwi teachers.

David Havercroft, Spark chief operating officer, says supporting OMG Tech! was an easy decision.

"OMG Tech! aligns with our ambition to unleash the potential in all New Zealanders. Technology can and should be a powerful democratising force for all, and our future as a nation depends on how well we make the most of the digital revolution.

“New Zealand needs a strong and prosperous tech industry, and businesses need more digitally talented New Zealand kids - so inspiring more kids to get into tech is critical for all of us," he says.

At the launch last night, the total amount of pledges from industry partners and the business community topped $600,000, with more pledges to come, the OMGTech! team says.

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