Microsoft Ireland and Maynooth University have joined forces to address digital inequality in education and increase the number of girls engaging in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths subjects.

The collaboration is designed to further strengthen Ireland's future talent pipeline and reinforce the country’s digital leadership.

The Digital Wealth project is a school outreach programme, which aims to address digital poverty and increase the digital capacity of over 1,000 students across Ireland who currently have restricted access to technology and digital skills.

The project will also focus on upskilling 300 teachers with the digital skills required to introduce coding and computational design to the classroom.

The Microsoft Dream Space team will deliver hands-on sessions to students around Artificial Intelligence, design thinking and computational thinking.

Teachers will also have the opportunity to learn new teaching strategies focused on STEM and accessibility.

The team will deliver a STEM based module to a cohort of students within the School of Education in Maynooth University, designed to empower them as student teachers to deliver enhanced STEM based lessons whilst on placement in the participating Digital Wealth schools.

Some 45 schools across Ireland will participate in the programme over three years, 13 of which will be schools designated under the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) initiative.

A needs analysis will take place in early 2022 to ensure schools receive the interventions they require, whether it be skills, hardware, or infrastructure, to support teachers in online learning and ensure that their students can engage fully in a digital world.

The collaboration will also see the roll-out of the STEM Passport for Inclusion project.

This new initiative will support 1,000 girls between fourth and sixth year from disadvantaged communities to progress into STEM courses and pursue a career in the digital economy.

The STEM Passport for Inclusion project was developed due to the low number of girls from disadvantaged backgrounds entering STEM related careers.

With the World Economic Forum estimating that 90% of all jobs in 2030 will require digital skills, and extensive research by the LSE and others indicating that girls from disadvantaged backgrounds are least likely to enter STEM careers, there is a clear need to ensure that every young person is given the opportunity to engage in STEM education and become a digital leader into the future.

James O'Connor, Vice President of Microsoft International Operations, said: "Digital technology now plays a pivotal role in everyday teaching and learning, however, many school communities continue to lack the skills, infrastructure, and support to realise the benefits," he said.

"At Microsoft, we are committed to helping address the digital skills gaps and digital poverty inequalities that exist so that every young person has the opportunity to engage in STEM education and understand how technology can shape their world," he stated.

"That’s why we’ve joined forces with Maynooth University. By working together, our ambition is to help close the gap between those with the knowledge, skills, and access to digital technology and those without," he added.

Dr Kathriona O’Sullivan, Department of Psychology at the Assisting Living and Learning (ALL) Institute Maynooth University, said: "The Digital Wealth project is a vitally important initiative that will play a critical role in helping to address the many forms of digital poverty that exist.

"We’ve all seen over the course of the past two years how important technology has been to enabling education to continue, despite physical schools often being closed and frequent periods of self-isolation," Dr O'Sullivan said.

"As well as ensuring that students have the skills to fill the digital roles of the future, addressing the digital divide will also ensure that schools across Ireland have the flexibility and agility they need to adapt to future periods of possible disruption," she added.