Gender and Computing

Apr 16, 2016

Miles Berry

Our latest CAS TV programme explore some of the issues around gender and computing with Carrie Anne Philbin (Raspberry Pi Foundation, Geek Gurl Diaries, CAS #include). Do watch, and subscribe if you haven’t already 🙂

There is a problem here: at GCSE, only 16% of the entries in computing were from girls; at A Level, this drops to just 8%. Only 456 girls took A level computing last year!

So what can be done? Including computing on the curriculum for all is part of the solution I think. Back in 2011, Emma Mulqueeny argued that ‘Year 8 was too late’: if girls get interested in coding and computer science, they’re perhaps more likely to continue that interest into secondary school and beyond. It’ll be some time before we find out whether or not this turns out to be the case, but I for one am optimistic.

In the video, Carrie Anne argues for more positive role models for women in computing, and there are many heroes that we could cite, from Ada Lovelace and Grace Hopper through to Sue Black and Wendy Hall. These though, perhaps, seem a bit distant from secondary school pupils. I love Carrie Anne’s idea of teachers drawing on their own students as role models, with female sixthformers helping out with KS3 classes for example.

Carrie Anne’s point about girls enjoying more authentic, practical, collaborative, projects, ideally with some altruistic purpose is well made, and well worth thinking about. There’s some great work going on in Key Stage 3, such as through projects such as Apps For Good, and at A Level or university, project work can take into account just these sorts of opportunities (although awarding organisations tend to frown on the collaboration…). I’m less sure how appealing GCSE controlled tasks are to girls, or indeed many boys.

The key message though is more about teaching computing better, in a more inclusive way, rather than one which is designed to, or perhaps just by accident, appeals to one gender more than another. I’d say it’s well worth departments thinking hard, and discussing honestly, what they might do about this in their school.

Is this a problem in your school? How have you got on with making computing more inclusive for girls? Or indeed, better for boys and girls?