Tracey and I were delighted to be invited to a workshop at the IET, hosted by the Micro:bit Educational Foundation, to discuss gender inequality in digital and computing education.
In just a couple of years the micro:bit has become a global phenomenon, and is now utilised by communities in 50 different countries around the world. Back in 2016 this handheld, fully programmable computer was given to every single 11 year old in the UK. It comes in packs like this one below, and can be coded to perform all kinds of tasks, games and activities.
What the micro:bit team have come to realise, however, is that in order to realise their ambitions of enabling every child to create their best digital future some groups of young people may need extra support.
Data published this January by the Department for Education showed that in comparison to 4.5 per cent of males, only 0.4 per cent of females taking A-levels chose computer science in 2017. A 2016 World Economic Forum report argued that unless gender inequality in the technology industry is addressed, then gendered pay and power gaps will only deepen as the sector continues to grow.
It is important to remember that this is not just a technical issue, but a social problem that we are facing here. With that in mind, micro:bit convened a room full of diverse female experts in technology, education and gender to discuss how to engage more young women in their work and shape not only the future of the tool itself, but also the supportive environment around it.
After introductions, the day kicked off with a roundtable discussion where we were all able to share our top three points on the barriers and enablers for girls in coding and making. This proved to be a very lively and engaging debate, with ideas flying across the room and lots of laughter.
The points raised roughly fell into four categories – ‘Technology’, ‘Messages and Resources’, ‘Communities and Peers’ and ‘Sector Leadership and Partnership’.
After a lunch break, we moved onto forming smaller working groups to explore solutions and strategies that micro:bit could take up within these four themes. At all times it was necessary to remember the key groups that micro:bit, and other educational technology initiatives, need to be thinking and connecting with.
Tracey and I were keen to ensure that the needs of girls without access to technology resources, or indeed without strong support systems, were acknowledged throughout the discussions. It was really encouraging to hear that this is also a priority issue for many of the other female influencers in the room. Connecting up with key contacts in disadvantaged young women’s lives, in particular youth and community workers, is vital. It was also suggested that the micro:bit packs could come with a complementary handheld device that can be used to write the code that powers the device, as not all young people have access to computers or smartphones.
Over all the day instilled in me a great amount of optimism for the future. It was exciting to be in a room of such inspiring female experts all striving to shape our technological future into one that is accessible to all. We are looking forward to seeing how micro:bit takes on board the feedback generated today, and will be exploring how this device could play a role in Go_Girl 3.0.
Many thanks to the micro:bit team for this great experience!