As well as being male, I’m also a passionate teacher who has noticed some very gender-specific behaviours when working with pupils. For example, I once gave Maths doodle books to my class for showing their working out. The boys’ books looked like an arithmetic"Do young girls take a dislike to coding because it can be a messy process with plenty of chances to get it wrong?" grenade had gone off within the pages, but the girls could have placed theirs back in the cellophane for a full refund! It was nothing to do with the fact that they couldn’t do the equations. It seemed to be more around not wanting to show those failed attempts. Perfection was the key, and the messy risk-taking that proceeded was nowhere to be seen. For this reason, they loved the table whiteboards because they wipe clean every time.
So is this behaviour symptomatic of why there is such a scary deficit in women taking up coding as a career choice? Do young girls take a dislike to coding because it can be a messy process with plenty of chances to get it wrong? I believe it’s certainly one factor, but think the problem stems from a number of culprits.
Take for instance the role models available within coding (fiction included), which are mostly men when you look around. Tech companies are absolutely dominated by the Y chromosome. Try Googling ‘programmers’ and you’ll see what I mean.
If you’re still not convinced then look at the figures because they certainly paint a poor picture. Data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency for example show that women made up only 17.4% of computer science graduates in 2012. At the University of Cambridge, the number of young women wanting to study the subject was even lower: just 12.2 per cent of applicants in 2011-12. Only two of 70 undergraduates accepted for its Computer Science courses who applied in 2010-11 were female. By 2020 in the US, there will be 1.4 million jobs available in computing related fields. US graduates are on track to fill 29% of those jobs. Women are on track to fill just 3%.
So teachers… is there anything we can do to buck this worrying trend? I certainly think there are three quick wins for sure.
- Firstly, celebrate the female role models for which there are plenty. Demonstrate the balance of talent through displays and case studies in class.
- Next, concentrate on the skills and not the coding. If they are not overjoyed with the process then highlight the problem solving and logical reasoning that comes out of this exciting area. Girls are great problem solvers!
- Finally, coding to fit your lessons and not lessons to fit your coding. Tap into their personal interests such as design and technology or literacy and show how coding facilitates these areas.
By the way, all of the above suggestions apply to boys as well ,of course. It just so happens that they generally have the buy-in already.
How do you ensure a thirst for coding in both boys and girls? Let us know below!