At my school, an independent all-girls school, there are 3 Computing electives: one in years 9-10 – Information and Software Technology (IST) and two in years 11-12 Software Design and Development (SDD) and Information Processes and Technology (IPT). I started in this school this year and I was told that while SDD had been offered for years, there were never enough girls to viably run it year-on-year. We only have IST and IPT at the moment …and for how long?
One doesn’t have to look hard to know that there are initiatives to get more girls into computing, in general, and into software engineering, in particular. For example, Sydney Uni runs Girls Programming Network, UNSW has Robogals, TAFE has Digi-Girls (program seems to have stopped) and Google has BOLD diversity program. Strangely though, my precursory look indicate that Computer Science or Software Engineering degrees don’t seem to include computing subjects as pre-requisites….how will students know if it’s for them if they haven’t been exposed to it previously (just wondering)?
Why is it so hard to get girls to study computing?
Fact is, there’s no easy answer….which means, there’s no easy solution. But first, some ideas on the problem.
Not counting conversations I’ve had on Twitter particularly with @asher_wolf, the following articles I read recently are indicative of the complexity of this issue.
- To my daughter’s HS programming teacher – by Rikki Endsley (a woman in IT) about her daughter’s awful experience of sexism whilst still in high school (tbh, there were more issues in that school)
- Titstare app at Techcrunch – report/outrage over a showcased app that lets you ‘stare at tits’
- The Brogrammer Effect – looking at why there are even fewer women in IT now than in the 1990s; also contains some positive ideas
- What it’s like to be a woman in Y Combinator – an interview with Nikki Durkin, creator of 99Dresses; i.e. a success story of a woman in IT and I’ll get back to this article because she has some positive ideas
- Terri Oda, Mathematician, debunks ‘women are bad in math’ [sic] myth – includes a brilliant, entertaining and informative slideshow debunking assumptions that the lack of women in STEM fields is due to being worse at science and math
Before I was a teacher, I was also a woman in IT. Luckily, I was never subjected to any of the sexism that Endsley’s daughter had or even Durkin who was “denied” programming electives, being offered Textiles instead (ironically, I teach both at my school). Durkin is quite upbeat about being in the minority saying it is an advantage because she stands out more and THAT is important for entrepreneurs. And like me, she also hasn’t suffered sexism – the cynics will probably add ‘yet’ to that. My wish for her is that she never does especially in a way that would hurt her positive spirit. This is to say that even though I didn’t suffer from it, I acknowledge that it exists. This is important because when I talk to my students about careers in IT, I can tell them of these 2 sides to the story….as well as some strategies to address it.
Durkin mentioned that part of the problem is that girls aren’t exposed to it. This was also mentioned in The Brogrammer Effect. These 2 articles confirmed my theory which inspired me to change the existing course scope to include software programming (see related post); that was a risk because girls chose this elective thinking it will be on Digital Media and web design…no mention of coding. Anyway, as it turned out, most of the girls loved it….actually more than I thought.
Endsley’s daughter was lucky to have her mum talk about careers in IT. Most girls don’t have people talking to them about it/IT. As one lady said in The Brogrammer Effect, women just don’t know about the perks of working in IT like flexible hours and “work on amazing projects with amazing people” – certainly an experience I could relate to as well.
…..I’m beginning to sound nostalgic about a past career….let’s move on….
I needed to write this now to reflect on my practice and will use the Stop, Start, Change, Continue framework for some future actions….and this is where your ideas could come in really handy….please make suggestions.
- feeling so depressed about the situation; that doesn’t lead to anything but ….well, feeling depressed
- talking to girls outside of my computing classes about the benefits of studying computing…and that doesn’t mean going into an IT career. Computational thinking is beneficial in and of itself
- building a community of students who can pursue such interests
- searching for ideas to understand and solve the issue
- connecting with women in IT like @asher_wolf and @kcarruthers who could be mentors as well as moral support (think: this is worth fighting for so don’t give up)
- connecting with fellow computing teachers and participating in #ozcschat
- trying to inspire current computing students
- seeking help
- computing course scope to include more Computer Science stuff; after all, students already do plenty of movie-making and web-designing in other subjects
Can you help me here please?
OR should I just give up…and go back to IT (that’s adding 1 to women in IT, right?)…or maybe teaching Maths?