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How can we encourage girls to get into computer science?

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Published: 20 November 2017

The influence of technology on our lives can’t be overstated. Where are you reading this article? What will you use if you want to tell other people about it?

A young female working at a computer

Technology not only improves our lives, it provides a huge range of career options for school leavers and graduates. However, things aren’t all rosy in the tech world. According to Indeed, the demand for tech talent is greater than the number of job seekers in key European countries such as Germany, France, UK, Ireland and the Netherlands.

Coupled with the fact that only 30.4% of those in ‘high-tech knowledge-intensive services’ jobs in the European Union and some EFTA countries are women (source: Eurostat), you can clearly see a problem… and a solution.

We need more women in tech

We can all play a part. The ideal place to start is our own families – after all, encouragement from adults is the number one reason for a girl to pursue computer science (source: Women Who Choose Computer Science – What Really Matters).

Disclaimer – we’re not talking about a passive hobby in video games here. This is about learning how computers work, learning how to stay safe online, learning how to code and swap hard drives, build websites, build computers and much more; a more active interest in computing. 

How can we encourage more girls to get into computing?

There’s no perfect age to introduce young family members to computers, but by the age of three or four, they’ll be ready to start learning how, and possess the dexterity, to use a keyboard, mouse or touch screen.

We spoke to local school teachers and IT lecturers here at the University of Sunderland. Here’s our top five things we can do to encourage girls to get into computing: 

1) Start early 

“It’s important to start at a young age and provide children with toys that allow them to develop in different ways. For example, I would encourage young girls to play with toys that might include technology or computing, so that they can build their logical thinking and practical skills.” 

Claire Ungley, Teacher and Post-16 Aspirations Coordinator, The Sixth Form at Dyke House College

2) Introduce them to code

“Families can encourage a girl’s interest in computing by exploring technology with them. Coding robots and dolls are available to purchase which adds a fun and practical element to coding while helping to develop their problem solving skills.”

Elisha Waller, Teacher of Computer ScienceUTC South Durham

3) Inspire!

“In order to encourage a love of computing and STEM, inspiration must come from the home. I challenge parents to sit with their daughters and do an hour of code using the free coding activities at code.org.

“Work through the challenges together, laugh together, struggle through the hard parts together, but most importantly complete the hour together. There is nothing more rewarding than helping your child to achieve and there’s nothing more inspiring than watching your hero by your side.”

Nik Kelsey, Teacher of Computer Science, UTC South Durham

4) Make it relatable 

“Talk about computing in devices such as mobile phones and TVs and explore the many different job roles in these devices.

“Even in mobile phones there were programmers, software and hardware engineers and designers involved in their creation.

“There are lots of ways you can explore computing further, from code academies to asking the bigger questions like “How does Wi-Fi work?” It all starts with exploration.”

Mark Lee, IAG Team Leader, Hartlepool College of Further Education

5) Keep it up

"There are far too few girls opting to take computer science. It is actually about creativity, communication and teamwork but too often it is seen as the domain of the geek who sits in front of a computer for days on end.

“There are lots of free activities – computing dojos, raspberry pi jams, and special courses put on to encourage young people to take an interest in computing.” 

Lynne Dagg, Senior Lecturer, Computer Science, University of Sunderland

So there we have it – five practical tips for families to encourage girls to get into computing. With over 2 million new digital jobs expected by 2020 (source: Development Economics), we hope that you give at least one of them a try.

Learn more about Computing at the University of Sunderland.