Australian girls take on the world in major robotics competition

A team of schoolgirls from Sydney's west are heading to the US for the FIRST Robotics Championship.

Students from Blacktown Girls High School are heading to the US to compete in one of the biggest robotics competitions in the world.

The all-girl team will join 60,000 people from 62 countries at the FIRST Robotics Championship in Texas.

The group of 20, from year nine to 11, will have to design, build, and program a robot to complete a set of required tasks and challenges.

“We’re stoked," said the team’s co-captain Ridham Walia.

"Going to compete in another country and representing Australia, it’s a really good opportunity.” 

Blacktown Girls High School won their regional competition to qualify for the championship in Texas.

The competition traditionally has low female attendance. Just 15 percent of competitors in past years were female.

“It’s definitely male dominated… even the teams that are co-ed,” said co-captain Dipshika Lal.

“And even the girls within [those teams], they don’t do much of the mechanical work, they do the PR work, they do all the admin work.”

But that hasn't discouraged her.

“Just because it’s a male-dominated industry, doesn’t mean that we shouldn't have the opportunity to go and pursue our dreams.”

The Blacktown Girls High School FIRST Robotics Team was formed in 2013 as a collaboration between the school and Macquarie University.

The program guarantees students who participate in the program a spot at the university - before they even finish their Higher School Certificate (HSC).

Angelina McMenamin from WiseTech Global, who helped fund the team, said it's not enough to have subjects available to girls at university.

Instead, there need to be more programs in schools to encourage girls in STEM subjects early in life.

“As they start to go and make the choices into university, they’ve already started to make those choices, and often that’s not within STEM subjects,” she said.

“So the choices and activities that they get involved in high school are really, really important.”

Co-captain Ridham said she wants to follow something in STEM after getting involved in school.

“When I became part of the team and started in mechanical, I just got really into it, and now I want to do something in engineering.”

The robotics team has already made changes at their school.

From their competition wins and fundraising efforts, the school now has a dedicated robotics room for students interested in the program.

“We’re an all-girls team and we’re really proud of that, we love seeing and inspiring other girls,” Ridham said.

Other schools are interested in implementing what Blacktown Girls has done.

“At our last competition, we had teachers from Sydney Girls come up to us and ask how we started the program in our school so they could also start it in their school,” Dipshika Lal said.

While the girls' achievements are encouraging, Ms McMenamin said more needs to be done.

“We’re seeing an increase in girls getting involved in things like this but we can still do better," she said.

Published 12 April 2018 at 7:36pm, updated 12 April 2018 at 8:28pm
By Lydia Feng