In this, the second of a three-part series about girls and women in Computing, school student Ellie Gregson suggests why girls tend not to choose STEM subjects.
Young people love to use technology. In school, we jump at the opportunity to use the iPads for research, or to use laptops for typing up essays or creating PowerPoints in class. In my school, when an iPad trolley is dragged into the classroom at the start of a lesson, there is always a race between the students to the front of the classroom, desperate not to have to share it with others, or be stuck with a tablet with a 10% battery life remaining.
Even so, we enjoy these lessons, because growing up with technology has allowed us to understand how to use it easily and to our education’s advantage (if we can get past the initial novelty of iPads in the classroom). Students appear to enjoy it equally, with a similar enthusiasm from both the male and female students in the class. Why then are the majority of technology-based jobs dominated by men, whilst many female students appear to lose interest in STEM subjects after GCSE level?
At the point of choosing A-level subjects for the following year, I can already see this pattern emerging. Out of about 10 girls in my group of friends, I am the only person choosing to take Maths and Further Maths next year, whilst they are all choosing arts and humanities-based subjects. I, along with many other students, believe in choosing the subjects that you enjoy most, allowing you to pursue a career that you equally love. The question then is why do girls appear to enjoy STEM subjects less, which are the key subjects that lead towards IT-based jobs in the future.
I believe that there are several reasons as to why the minority of students with a passion for STEM subjects are girls. For example, a lack of education about the career options available may limit us in our understanding of possible jobs for the future, which will make us opt for careers we know more about. Therefore, learning about a wider range of careers from a younger age would allow students to make a more informed decision about the A-level subjects they choose, and may create an interest in STEM subjects for more female students. In addition to this, I believe that many girls may feel that they are less able academically than boys, and would therefore find the prospect of pursuing a career in technology intimidating, knowing that they’ll have to compete with the majority. However, studies have shown that girls have equal ability to boys academically, and the fact that those who achieved the top ten GCSE mock results in my year were all female just bear this out. It’s not that girls lack the ability to pursue IT-based careers, but I believe that some lack the confidence. This could be due to the ongoing historical stereotype of STEM subjects being for men whilst the more creative subjects are for women, which of course is nonsense. Subjects should be pursued because you enjoy them, not dictated by gender stereotypes. Constant support from teachers, and comparing students by grades, not gender, will allow confidence in their ability to grow, which could result in a greater love for these subjects.
Girls need awareness, support and belief in their ability to pursue a career in IT, but I also believe they need someone to look up to. Although there are women who are successful in technology, for example the CEO of Yahoo, girls need to have confidence, knowing that they will too be successful in these jobs. Therefore, awareness of successful women in IT needs to increase. Knowing that success has been achieved by people in a similar situation to you in the past gives you belief that you can also accomplish in the future. We are equally able, but we just need to be given the confidence to know it and use it to our advantage.
About Ellie Gregson
Ellie is a Year 11 student at Thomas Tallis school in London. She is studying for her GCSEs, enjoys writing and is considering a career as a journalist.
This article was first published in the April issue of Digital Education.
The first part of this trilogy was Girls and Computing.
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