One of the apparently insoluble problems of the age is how do you encourage more girls to take up ICT or Computing? I think a lot can be done, and have done so myself, but I wonder how far a lot of the effort fails to get to the heart of the issue, which could be the curriculum itself, the way it is taught, or a combination of the two?
What prompted this insight (assuming it is an insight) is a very fascinating and engaging book I’m reading at the moment called “Inside her pretty little head”, by Jane Cunningham and Philippa Roberts. It’s actually a book on marketing, and I have to say that when I came across it on the library shelf my first thought was that it was going to be either a feminist treatise or one of those books that tell you as long as you use pink and say nice words you’re on to a winner as far as the ladies are concerned.
I was delighted to discover that I was wrong on both counts. What the authors have done is very succinctly and, I believe, accurately, provided a summary of the academic research into the differences between the female and male brains, and therefore the differences between women and men in the way they think.
Now, there is always a danger of stereotyping a particular group of people – in this case women – or of taking a single idea too far.Nevertheless, although life is both complex and complicated, that does not mean that solutions have to be. Indeed, I’ve often found that the simpler a proposition, the closer to the truth it is likely to be.
At the risk of doing the book, especially the opening chapter, a grave injustice, I will latch on to just one or two of the differences the authors highlight, namely that, on the whole, men tend to analyse, to take things apart and put them together again to see how they work, whereas women tend to take a much more holistic approach. Also, men tend to try and solve problems on their own, whilst women tend to deal with issues by drawing on their support network and discussing them.
One could argue that the ICT Programme of Study is part of the problem. If you look at the Attainment Targets, it is not until you get to Level 4 that exploring patterns and relationships is on the agenda, or that you have to be concerned with the needs of the audience, both of which could be said to be feminine considerations. However, I think a much more useful approach would be to “feminise”, if you will, the teaching methods used. In other words, to place much more emphasis on collaborative problem-solving and the use of social (especially Web 2.0) applications such as wikis and social networking. Many teachers are already doing so, of course.
So in answer to the question posed in the title of this article, I would say that the curriculum itself is not as important as the methods used to teach it. But what does any of this mean as far as attracting girls into ICT and computing in further and higher education, and the world of work, is concerned?
Interestingly enough, whilst I was penning this article Drew Buddie wondered aloud what he could do to encourage girls to take ICT further, given that he was unable to be a role model for them because of his gender (you will need to register to join in that discussion, but it’s free). I have come across all sorts of approaches to making ICT more attractive to girls, such as having girls’ computer clubs (which I regard as both sexist and potentially patronising), bringing in women speakers to address the students and focusing on “feminine” problems such as what colour nail polish to choose (which I thought both patronising and ridiculously trivial).
But I wonder if, in the total scheme of things, providing female role models and so on is as important as providing a learning environment and experiences which are much more in tune with the way girls see and experience the world?
See also the interview with Melendy Lovett.