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Why schools need to encourage girls to code

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Schools need to do more to encourage girls to code. Source: Shutterstock.com

Wherever you look, reports of automation armageddon are saturating newspaper headlines, dinner conversations and lunchtime debates. We’re all aware change is coming, and that this change will revolutionise our world.

Along with these rumours of revolution comes a wave of fear about the future of our jobs. We are currently going to school for 16 years to gain skills, while scientists are creating machines that can complete the task the minute the ‘on’ switch is flicked.

Inevitably, jobs will be lost. We often say that we were ‘made’ for our dream job, but the desire to have a meaningful life is no match for a specifically created machine. Clearly, efficiency is going to replace human potential in many existing industries.

But with the reduction in human potential of existing jobs, it must be remembered that many more jobs will be created. In fact, it is estimated 65 percent of jobs that today’s schoolchildren will be doing have not even been created yet.

If there is one thing we know, it’s that the future is digital. This means children’s education needs to be digital too. There needs to be emphasis on computing skills and digital understanding to ensure tomorrow’s leaders have knowledge of tomorrow’s world.

Yet only 18 percent of Computer Science graduates in the UK and US are women. The technology industry has become dominated by men, but as technology seeps into every area of our future, it is now more important than ever that girls engage with the digital sphere.

“There is a digital skills gap throughout Europe and the US and we are missing out on 50 percent of the talent pool if we are not encouraging women to see themselves as potential coders and contributors,” Jill Hodges, CEO of Fire Tech Camp, a provider of tech courses to young people in the UK, told Study International.

Recent Computer Science graduate Danielle Platt agreed with this, saying the gender gap in technology industries may discourage women from entering the industry.

“There’s no need to miss out because of the gender-tech-divide; break the stereotype, try something new – soon, you won’t be worried about being in a 90 percent male class, but more concentrated on why your code won’t compile,” Platt said.

In order to encourage more women to gain digital skills, experts say the stereotype that technology industries are ‘boys’ jobs’ needs to be overcome.

Liliana Kastilo, board member of Women Hack For Nonprofits – an organisation that pairs women coders with nonprofit groups who need coding help – explained to Study International that the creative aspect of coding is often overlooked. While coding does involve some mathematics, Kastilo says anyone who enjoys creative problem solving and learning new things will enjoy coding.

“With the way coding is currently being taught, there are still only a small number of students who are inspired enough to continue learning – and the vast majority of them are boys,” Shwetal Shah, head of partnerships for Erase All Kittens – a computer game which teaches children to code – told Study International.

However, through an engaging game, Erase All Kittens allows girls to explore coding languages in a creative and interactive format. Fifty-five percent of children who are playing the game are female, Shah said, showing girls are interested in coding, but they are put off studying the subject at school.

Pat Ryan, organiser of Cyber Girls First – an outreach initiative that is encouraging girls to study computer science – said that after running an event at a school in the UK, 10 girls chose to study Computer Science at GCSE level, compared with none the year before.

“It is important to give students the space to try things that may not work, to get hands-on and to see the innovation process in a Design Thinking framework, allowing them to see testing and improvements, as well as failures and pivots along the way, as being part of the normal path to innovation,” said Hodges.

Through having strong female leaders in technology industries and initiatives that encourage girls to engage with computer science, the tech-gender gap can be bridged.

Although the exact nature of what the future holds is unclear, it is certainly digital. By tackling gender discrepancies in technology now, we can ensure gender equality progresses and the brightest minds will be driving our society, regardless of which gender they identify as.

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