Drone initiative flying at Melbourne Girls' Grammar

To coincide with the celebration of International Women’s Day on 8 March 2019, The Good Schools Guide sat down with Melbourne Girls Grammar Director of STEM, Ivan Carlisle, to discuss the school’s innovative Drone Program.

What is unique about the Drone Program at Melbourne Girls Grammar?

The Drone Program is but one element within our broader Student Enterprise Program. At Melbourne Girls Grammar, we craft learning and cocurricular experiences that encourage girls to be creative, resourceful, adaptable, team oriented and independent. We cultivate student enterprise through a whole range of initiatives including:

  • Learning Beyond the Red Brick Walls: Local and global opportunities, incorporating study tours, exchanges, volunteering and passion focused opportunities
  • Careers Inspiration: Seeking and securing internships and industry learning experiences
  • Student Philanthropy: Volunteer work is a highly valued component of student experience
  • Leadership: Demonstrated through participation in enterprise opportunities, both individual and team based.

Our Drone Program fits under the banner of Careers Inspiration. We have partnered with the Institute for Drone Technology to provide our Senior Years students (Years 9 to 12) the opportunity to complete their Remote Pilot Licence (RePL). This is a qualification certified by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority and allows the holder to fly drones for commercial purposes.

When was the drone program introduced and how was the idea conceived?

We introduced the RePL into our program in early 2018, however, we have incorporated Parrot Mambo indoor drones in our broader STEM courses for a longer period. Currently, indoor drones are introduced to students in Year 4 as part of our Junior Years Queen Bee program at Morris Hall. This involves students obtaining our own take on a drone licence. The indoor drones are also incorporated into several units of work across the STEM program in Years 5 to 8.

The idea to introduce the RePL opportunity to students came about as we monitored the Unmanned Arial Vehicle (UAV) regulatory landscape. Given the school’s location in inner Melbourne, it was important for us to ensure that the integration of outdoor drones in our program was very carefully considered. Once we understood that the RePL was accessible to students in our Senior Years Program, we reflected on the value to students of working through the qualification as an authentic initial foray into the professional world. Micro credentials such as the RePL provide students with experience of learning outside the traditional school context and can prove eye opening to students as they ponder different career pathways.

What kind of impact do you think initiatives like this have on female students and their attitude towards careers in STEM?

Career inspiration opportunities such as the RePL can be transformative to students. They provide a challenge that requires perseverance and come with the outcome of a genuine qualification that can result in employment. Micro credentials, like internships, provide an efficient means for students to sample a vocational pathway and broaden their perspective on what career they may wish to pursue. While gender imbalances do persist in some areas of STEM, our students at Melbourne Girls Grammar are critically reflective of this reality and are empowered to have the confidence to pursue what they are passionate about. Experiences such as the RePL reinforce that attitude for our students that they can do anything that they set their minds to.

Do you think other schools will follow suit and implement drone programs of their own?

Several schools have well considered drone programs and drones serve as a fantastic technology to explore many areas of inquiry of interest in education. For example, drones not only serve as an emerging technology that is of interest to students who may wish to leverage it for hobby purposes or use it as a starting point for a broader career in aviation or the like. Drones provide a vehicle for students to reflect on the societal impacts of emerging technologies, including:

  • The need for regulatory frameworks to evolve
  • The physics of flight
  • The impacts of technological disruption to industry and economies
  • Notions of Artificial Intelligence in terms of autonomous flight or video surveillance
  • How do you see the program evolving over the next five to 10 years?

We will continue to provide the RePL opportunity for our students. This year we are also supporting the opportunity for our Senior students to work towards the UAV Challenge and we are always on the lookout for opportunities for students to utilise their RePLs in career internship contexts. Over the coming years we will consider developing our Program to be somewhat similar to the Monash Motorsports Program, with students pursuing various initiatives and challenges involving flying, modifying and programming drones and forging industry partnerships.

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