The Perils of doing nothing

Julie Andrews, account manager at BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, makes an impassioned plea for parents, grandparents and siblings to all help make an education in technology accessible to everyone. 

In 1984 my parents invested debentures in my local high school to buy its first set of computers. I remember the confusions around what this delivered. People were unsure about what computing was and whether it was necessary for a 15 year old in 1985.

But my parents, born in the 1930s, saw value in their daughter being part of this important new world. Some 32 years later you would assume that education around technology would have moved on to represent the current need. Yet, we still seem to be lagging in a surprising number of ways.

The gender gap

Computer science isn’t taught across the board, because it’s for boys. Really - how did we get to this situation in 2017? My 15-year-old daughter - who attends an all-girls school - has just researched a speech topic on ‘sitting on the fence’. She firmly believes the debate is good - any debate - and that a failure to have an opinion isn’t an option.

The school encourage the girls to think freely, to think out of the box and to celebrate this intellect. Their debate team recently making the European youth parliament nationals indicates this.

The school is without doubt progressive and it cares for the girl’s welfare and development. However, when it comes to computer science, her school sits firmly on the fence.

If the girls wish to do computer science - they can of course - if they travel across town to another school in their lunchtime. The boys school next door offers computer science, yet the girls are not invited to access these classes, nor encouraged to take computer science for their own advancement.

I have been fascinated, and disappointed, to see a wealth of intelligent and insightful young women denied the chance to develop their skills along computer sciences pathways.

The same daughter argued passionately that feminism is dead, and that 5 years from now it will have no place in the modern society, and why does it need to exist at all if we are all equal? But clearly her argument fails when it comes to her own school, clearly the balance of education sits unlevelled between the sexes.

But is the school to blame? It does show access to these courses on its curriculum. By all accounts it would provide access to the courses - if enough children decided to take GCSE computing, but allegedly this is the problem. Students aren’t that bothered.

With limited funding for school resources, it’s hardly surprising the school takes this stance. The question we need to ask is: What do we need to do to make changes here?

By the year 2020, estimates are that 825,00 IT jobs across Europe will be unfilled. The NHS, which has a high need for good IT staff, is desperate to recruit and develop young people into roles. STEM subjects need an influx of woman, and yet we still fail when we get to the encouraging this take up in schools.

In the past few years there has been an improvement in the number of children taking GCSE computing. It is however still only around 12% of all GCSE candidates that take computer science.

It’s not good enough to wait for others to make the change. Educators need help! As parents, grandparents and siblings we need to make sure we support this process. The effect of this impacts all of us.

We seem set to educate our kids only about the perils of technology and not about how to use technology for the advancement of human kind.

Forget the fear, folks - it’s here to stay and it’s about time we start looking at how we embed this culture into our own.

Like my parents in 1984, we need to adopt and adapt to what’s in front of us. We need to teach children, not just how to be safe with technology, but the why they should be part of the world of computing. We need to teach them about designing the future.

Comments (3)

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  • 1
    Harmony Julius Kwawu wrote on 4th Aug 2017

    The main point raised by your article (the peril of under representation of women in the field of information technology) is depressingly sad but true. To say that computer science or indeed the engineering profession as a whole has an image problem is an understatement.

    The issue of under representation of women, disable people, ethnic minorities and people from lower economic background should concern us all. For a start, we now live in a hyper competitive global market place and countries such as India, China, Estonia, South Korea, Singapore, Israel, Canada, Germany and Japan are heavily investing in a new digital economy. This means, continuing with the current culture of apathy and failing to promote and encourage wider participation in technology are luxuries Britain can’t afford.

    There is an urgent need to educate the public about the benefit of computer science and information technology generally. I will have liked to see evidence in support of the claim that: Computer science is not taught across the board in our schools, because it’s for boys. If such evidence exist this must be made public so it can be discussed and refuted. We have forgotten that the first ever computer programmer was a female called Ada Lovelace. And not long ago, the term computer was used to describe female mathematicians and programmers at NASA. Their work is the subject of a recent film titled, Hidden Figures. So how can anybody say technology is for boys and not girls in 2017? That view is not only outdated but belong to a preindustrial age, and has no place in the new information age.

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  • 2
    Julie Andrews wrote on 15th Aug 2017

    Thanks Harmony for you well thought out response, I agree that there is an urgent need to educate the public about the benefits of computer science and IT. BCS are doing a number of things in this sphere and as always we need engaged and passionate members who will act in support of this, whether as a supporter, activator or influencer, we need help to get this recognised on a wider scale. I'd be happy to include you on any communication we have around this if you'd like to be further involved.

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  • 3
    Julia Adamson wrote on 16th Aug 2017

    I thought it important that we share how BCS is committed to making IT good for society. We want to ensure all sectors of the society are given equal and fair access to a career in the IT profession. We are developing an extensive strategy and action plan to address issues of under-representation of women, BME and other disadvantaged sectors of the community. Our aim is address under-representation at all levels, from school through to industry.

    Equality and inclusion is a pivotal part of our work with schools, our vision is for every child in every school, including girls, students from poorer backgrounds and ethnic minorities, to have access to a world-class computing education. We are targeting schools in more diverse and deprived areas to promote computing education. We are working with the teaching community at every stage; from subject knowledge enhancement courses and teacher training scholarships, to the CAS master teacher training programme and BCS certificate in teaching computer science, to ensure that every teacher gets the support they need. And we are working with a range of partners on the Athena Swan project to promote equal access for women to IT education at University, improving access to a career in the industry.

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Supporting the government’s ‘Digital by Default’ strategy we’re keen everyone has the skills and confidence to use IT. Here, we share thoughts on a variety of digital matters.

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September 2017