DeepMind aims to close STEM skills gap with new programme

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DeepMind, the artificial intelligence (AI) company and research lab bought by Google in 2014, is developing an educational initiative designed to fill some of the science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) skills that the UK is lacking.

In partnership with several charities and social enterprises, DeepMind said it would be developing educational resources and helping existing programmes reach more young people.

Obum Ekeke, head of education partnerships at DeepMind, said: “For many young people in the UK, especially those from underrepresented backgrounds, a career in artificial intelligence feels out of reach – and that needs to change.

“By focusing on education at an early age, there is an opportunity to help break down longstanding barriers that have facilitated a system of inequalities. Our hope is that this education programme can help instil confidence in the next generation of students and eventually play a part in creating an inclusive and accessible global AI ecosystem.”

Although there are government initiatives aimed at providing teachers with the skills to deliver tech-based lessons better, many teachers have admitted in the past that they do not think they have the skills they need to teach topics such as coding.

As part of the new programme, DeepMind will work with the Raspberry Pi Foundation to develop resources for teachers to help them teach students about AI more easily.

Volunteers from DeepMind have signed up to work with Raspberry Pi to ensure the resources explain how AI appears in day-to-day life, or may do in the future, in a way that is appropriate for students aged between 11 and 14, as well as “culturally relevant” to students of particular ages and backgrounds.

Alongside the classroom resources, DeepMind and Raspberry Pi want to develop a challenge for students that will call for them to apply AI concepts and technologies to a “real world” issue to help them understand better how AI as a technology is part of their lives.

Citing research from the British Science Association, DeepMind said 38% of schools do not offer a computer science GSCE, which means some students may not be able to go on to study certain subjects even if they want to.

The number of GCSE students choosing to take computing subjects rose in 2022, with the increase being almost exclusively down to more girls choosing to enrol in the subject. But there have been concerns in the past that academic numbers do not always reflect the number of people choosing these careers later in life, and girls have said in the past that they regretted dropping STEM subjects.

Outside of the traditional classroom environment, there are many initiatives aimed at encouraging young people to take an interest in tech-based subjects, but reach can be limited.

To help charities and organisations reach more young people with the work they are already doing, DeepMind will give funding and volunteering hours to STEM Learning, The Brilliant Club, Stemettes, the British Science Association and Apps for Good.

In doing so, DeepMind plans to help those organisations add more AI-related content to the programmes they have already developed, and to reach more children, especially those from state schools or young people from groups underrepresented in the tech sector. The aim is to expand these programmes to reach more than 500 schools in the UK, equating to about 100,000 secondary school-aged children.

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