PwC’s 21st Century Minds program and STEM Explorer

January 16, 2017 1:44 am
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STEM Explorer by apptEDUde is a proud initiative of PwC’s 21st Century Minds accelerator program. The below is an interview between our co-founder and Kirstyn Chan, a member of PwC’s Corporate Responsibility team.

Summer learning loss. The phenomenon that strikes school children over summer as they swap schoolbooks for swimming and slurpees. It is the educational gap that leads to a drop in academic skills and knowledge over the school holidays. Marko Njavro and his team have created a program called apptEDUde which aims to keep students learning over summer. We caught up with Marko to find out more about the program.

Tell me a little bit about apptEDUde.

apptEDUde is an initiative bringing to market a K-6 educational game which will help children avoid the “summer learning loss” in a fun and engaging way. Our initial focus is on the STEM subjects, given the importance of these skills going forward to both the students and Australia. Our team consists of Dr Branwen Morgan, Brian Powyer, Joel McInnes and myself. We have combined experience in Neuroscience, STEM journalism, education and entrepreneurship. Our technology partner in the venture is 2and2 games.

Why did you decide to create an offering to target ‘Summer Learning Loss’?

While reading the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, we were surprised to learn that in the US, the “Summer Learning Loss” was understood to account for as much as 80% of the difference in achievement for students between low and high socioeconomic families. In a world full of complex and daunting problems, it seemed that there was something very specific which we could target and potentially have an impact on a large scale. We subsequently investigated the existence of the problem in an Australian context and found that while the same issue exists here, it manifests itself slightly differently – affecting the level of learning in Terms 4 and 1. Our own survey of teachers showed that 90% thought that students forgot content knowledge over the school holidays.

What impact have you seen as a result of launching apptEDUde?

To validate the existence of the problem and our solution for it, we partnered with Wilkins Public School in Marrickville in Sydney. 97 students took part in the pilot (26 in the test group and 71 in the control group). We administered a pre-test for both groups before school holidays and then gave the test group a tablet pre-loaded with our game. The 26 students played the game over holidays (75% completion was required to be counted as valid).

Upon the return to school, we administered the post-test (identical to pre-test). What we found was a statistically significant improvement in the test group across both Science and Maths, controlling for a range of variables in our control. Children and the parents also completed a survey which showed high levels of engagement and satisfaction. All this combined gave us the confidence to proceed with a vastly improved version of the product, utilising the latest advances in neuroscience and evidence-based approaches.

What do you think are the biggest challenges and opportunities around STEM in Australia?

The government and big business are certainly making all the right noises around STEM and its importance to the future of Australia. The question is whether the required pace of change can be actioned through curriculum changes, or whether the private sector will have to come in with solutions which will supplement the official education system. That presents an opportunity for all the initiatives in 21st Century Minds.

What has been the most beneficial aspect of 21st Century Minds so far?

The whole program has been incredible, but I would like to single out our team of mentors for praise.
They have injected a huge deal of enthusiasm, ideas and professionalism. The combined networks of the mentors in our team will be a game-changer for us once we’re ready for them to make the right introductions.

We also caught up with the lead mentor for apptEDUde, PwC Partner, Aaron Le Poidevin to find out what his experience has been like supporting the apptEDUde team.

As a mentor what experience and insight do you provide to the team at apptEDUde?

Having been involved in a number of early stage ventures, it has been great to be able to share those experiences with Marko and the apptEDUde team. Hopefully it has saved them some of the pain they would have otherwise experienced! Being able to leverage the PwC network to make relevant connections has also been an important part of my lead mentor role.

What has been the highlight of your mentoring relationship so far?

The highlight of the mentoring relationship to date has been to see the progression of their minimum viable product and their ability to attract market leaders in their field to their advisory team. This will make them well placed for rapid growth.

By: Kirstyn Chan, PwC Australia