Some years back I wrote a dissertation on the topic of Gender Imbalance in Computing Disciplines at 3rd level with particular reference to Institutes of Technology and the implications for Primary and Post Primary integration of IT into the curriculum in Ireland. The conclusions I drew from my literature review and research findings were as follows:
- The phenomena of a gender imbalance in computer science is a recognised and well documented area of research
- A statistically documented gender imbalance exists within the discipline of Computer Science at 3rd Level Institutes of Education
- This gender imbalance is not at the forefront of media coverage, schools or public awareness and more especially, female students
- Emphasis on computer literacy, keyboard skills and software competency causes confusion about the exact nature of Computer Science as a discipline
- Emphasis on computer literacy, keyboard skills and software competency does not enthuse female students to enter Computer Science at 3rd level
- The absence of a clear, concise and well supported initiative to integrate ICT into the Primary and Post Primary curriculum has led to the widespread adoption of skill based ICT programmes
- ICT initiatives can influence students, especially female students, when they make the decision about their 3rd level choices
- Exemplars exist from other countries that have been used to effectively tackle the gender imbalance issue
My research showed that girls who were actively using computers and related technologies were still not interested in Computer Science. I believe that one of the main reasons for this is that students do not understand the meaning of the term Computer Science and subject areas such as programming. Students should be provided with a key ICT knowledge set at an early stage of their school life; certainly by 6th class in Primary school and no later than 2nd year at Post Primary school. At the time of my research there was a serious lack of computer science female role models and zero initiatives to address the gender imbalance issue.
Since then a number of initiatives have attempted to increase the involvement of girls in Computer Science by introducing them initially to programming. The founder of “Girls who Code”, Reshma Saujani, states that by 2020 there will be 1.4 million open jobs in computing in the USA; jobs that will be some of the country’s highest-paying and fastest growing career paths but only 4% of them will be taken by girls.
In recent years CoderDojo clubs have helped to raise the profile of programming in Ireland and in March of this year, the CoderDojo Girls Initiative was launched in an effort to increase the number of girls who attend the CoderDojo clubs from a current 29% to 40%.
The recent release of the draft specification for Primary Mathematics Curriculum (Junior Infants to Second Class) could have presented an ideal opportunity to set things right from the moment girls enter Junior Infants. This document acknowledges that the new Primary Mathematics will embed the basis of coding – computational, creative and flexible thinking skills. However the how, when and where decisions about coding as an integral part of the primary curriculum will depend on a wider review process, pushing the opportunity for pupils, both boys and girls, to explore coding as part of their daily curriculum further down the tracks! Currently the NCCA is exploring coding in the wider primary curriculum and is actively gathering “Classroom stories” about schools work with coding. In the Spring of 2018 the NCCA hope to clarify to what extent, for what purpose and where coding could be integrated in the primary curriculum.
In the meantime any primary teacher who is interested in introducing their pupils in general but especially girls to computer science could consider looking at “Hello Ruby” created by Linda Liukas who taught herself to code at the age of 13. Linda co-founded the Rails Girls network, teaching women to create web applications. “Ruby” is a six-year old girl who Liukas uses to to introduce technology and coding to children in general but especially girls. You can find out more about “Hello Ruby” here. Note: Ruby is an open source programming language however Scratch is probably an easier starting point for many classes and PDSTTiE provides course for teachers who are interested in Scratch.
“Hello Ruby” computation thinking resources here:
Ruby and Friends colouring page here:
A guide for parents and guardians – supporting CoderDojo Girls can be found here: