Jobs for the girls?

I have had a very exciting week. Out of 50 students who have opted for GCSE Computing, 6 of them are girls. This does not sound like very many, but this is 6 more than last year.

I started something of a personal quest the year that I began teaching to attract more women into Computing classes. I went to university to study for a degree in Computational Linguistics after studying language A-Levels. I love languages, but IT in my all girls convent school was limited. It was a strange feeling to walk into a room of 50 men at one of my university interviews, but it wasn’t going to make me walk away, and not for one second did I think that the reason was that it was a course for boys.

My GCSE Computing lessons are one of the highlights of my week. Computing is a school subject like no other, and its students have a unique way of thinking (and a unique sense of humour, but that’s another blog for another time!). It is a strange feeling, after nearly 10 years teaching in mixed comprehensive schools to stand in a classroom with 25 boys.

There are a couple of things I have tried this year that I believe have made a difference. The first a small field trip to our local sixth form college. 12 girls and I spent the afternoon with two excellent Computing A-Level teachers. The first thing that struck me was that when I began to invite the girls, was that they asked me what Computing was. They weren’t just “not interested”, Computing hadn’t entered into their experience. We went spent the afternoon at the college learning VB programming, the finite state machine, and a magic trick. All of the girls said afterwards that Computing was an option to which they would give serious consideration.

We have been working with IBM this year on the MentorPlace scheme. It’s for Year 10 girls, which is too late to attract girls to the Computing GCSE option, but all the girls involved have said that they are seriously considering A-Level. Each student has had an industry mentor to email (through monitor-able software), we have visited for activity days, and several of the girls did work experience with their mentors, which included web design and evaluation, RFID tagging and java programming.

I think giving girls an experience outside of school to show them Computing and its real life applications is invaluable in driving up numbers. I think that if you try to explain it to people who are perhaps not gamers, or who have had no urge to dismantle their PC, it can be very difficult for them to conceptualise.

As an aside, I realise that “Pink it and shrink it” is now fairly universally frowned upon in Computing circles. HOWEVER, I became involved with the pilot of CC4G at the beginning of my career and carried it forward to my current school, where it ran as a Saturday morning club for Year 6 girls from the feeder schools. There was certainly something to be said for fostering the interest in girls at a younger age. They bought mothers and grandmothers with them, and a CC4G dad, who learnt alongside them. Most of these girls went on to choose IT options, including the CISCO IT practitioners course, which was certainly “proper computing”.

There is a big movement to encourage more girls to consider Computing careers and options, but ultimately, we as teachers probably have the biggest influence of all, which is quite a responsibility.

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