Closing the computing science gender gap: Toni Scullion business comment

Computing science is a subject that is intertwined with so many other subjects and has the power to open a whole new world of possibilities and inventions that can help so many and change the world we live in.

'I believe closing the gender gap and addressing the decline of pupils, both boys and girls, is entirely solvable'
'I believe closing the gender gap and addressing the decline of pupils, both boys and girls, is entirely solvable'

There is no other subject quite like it and is a subject that at the very least all pupils should get the opportunity to explore.

Most things we love are made with computer code. From how Netflix recommends shows for you to binge next, your social media apps on your phone, your Fitbit, Alexa and Google assistants. Learning to code is a skill like no other, it truly is a super power. If you can code you can pretty much make anything!

The gender gap in computing science is not solely a Scottish problem but a global one. DressCode’s mission is to inspire as many pupils as possible to choose to study the subject, with a particular emphasis on engaging girls. There is no panacea to close the gender gap but one thing is certain, if you change nothing, nothing will change.

So dressCode is doing as much as it can to bring about change. We want the next generation to experience the magic of computing science, to feel that excitement of having an idea and make it a reality and see the world of possibilities it can provide. We want pupils to realise that with computing science they can not just imagine things and have ideas but they can actually make things a reality.

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There are amazing free tools available to teachers and pupils. With just a couple of clicks they can make their own website, code their own game, design an animation, build an app, explore machine learning and that’s barely scratching the surface.

I believe closing the gender gap and addressing the decline of pupils, both boys and girls, is entirely solvable. Extra curricular activities are just part of a grand strategy that has the power to bring about much needed change. This is the realm where DressCode sits. We have a free online pupil portal for girls aged 11 to 13 where they can be introduced to games design, web development and cyber security. We are working on the DressCode primary portal as we speak.

All our materials are supported by short videos, providing pupils an opportunity to explore at their own pace. We usually run hackathons in Scottish tech hubs for S1 and S2 pupils with senior mentors and staff, to bring pupils out and show them what an exciting environment a modern tech company can be. Senior mentors are key, as we know how important role models are for younger people.

We believe that there shouldn’t be a barrier to activities like this for pupils so all are run without any costs to the pupils or schools, including supporting schools in getting to and from the events, The current restrictions have pushed us to develop new ways of engaging girls and we are running themed online competitions for Christmas, and recently collaborated with Adobe to create a competition for girls from P1 to S2 in the UK and Ireland. We have many more on the way.

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We look to bridge the gap between education and industry. We want to show pupils the amazing opportunities there are in tech, and help industry get involved in creative ways with grassroots education and reach as many pupils as possible.

We want to empower teachers and champion the incredible work they are doing to close the gender gap and inspire pupils into computing science, to champion the schools and head teachers that are trying to solve the problem we face in Scotland of dramatic decline in uptake of computing science and the gender gap. We want to work with all industry, big or small, and highlight how computing science is used in their sector.

At DressCode we truly believe together we can close the gender gap and inspire more pupils to choose computing science. We all have something to give, be that time, money or encouraging and supporting others or raising awareness of opportunities at grassroots level.

We can individually make a difference but collaboration is key, having a collective and strategic approach with a permanent focus being at grassroots level starting from primary to secondary. We need to think differently and come together to make change happen on a mass scale and we need to act now.

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- Toni Scullion is a computing science teacher, founder of DressCode, Turing’s Testers, Computing Science Scotland and co-founder of ada.scot

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