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Computer Clubs for Girls: the problem with seeing girls as the problem! Digital technology, learner identities and school- to-work transitions in England.

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Presentation on theme: "Computer Clubs for Girls: the problem with seeing girls as the problem! Digital technology, learner identities and school- to-work transitions in England."— Presentation transcript:

1 Computer Clubs for Girls: the problem with seeing girls as the problem! Digital technology, learner identities and school- to-work transitions in England and Germany Seminar 1, 25 March 2013 Alison Fuller, Southampton Education School Alison Fuller

2 2 Outline CC4G – what is it? What problem was it designed to address? How did it do? Explanations but first a bit of background and context…

3 Government Industry/Growth Strategy £1.6bn to support the 11 key economic sectors in the Industrial Strategy (automotive, aerospace, life sciences, agri-tech, prof business services, information economy, construction, education, nuclear, oil and gas, off shore wind) Sector strategies to be published this year (life sciences and aerospace already published) Digital: £16m over next two years to support skills development in digital content industries with further matched funding project for digital content production (Pearson Policy Watch Digest, 21 March 2013) Growing labour market demand and skills shortages 3

4 Female participation in IT/Computing Persistent gender imbalance in UK (and internationally): IT and computing degrees – 15% of students on IT-related degrees in UK are female Careers - 17% of IT professionals are women working-with-schools/girls-in-it-1/http://www.e-skills.com/education/schools/employers- working-with-schools/girls-in-it-1/ - 22 March 2013 Apprenticeships: IT Profal framework – total starts 2011/112, 10,451 – 11% female (BIS administrative data) 4

5 Gender segregation and implications Females segregated vertically and horizontally in LM – under-represented at higher occupational/professional levels and concentrated in particular occupations Less than 20% of females in IT classified as ‘IT manager’, 14% as ‘software professionals’, approx. 60% classified as ‘database assistants or clerks’ (BERR 2008) Women across IT labour force paid on average £85 a week less than men (BERR 2008) 5

6 The IT gender gap: Research Falling into three types over past 30 years (Sanders 2005) focusing on: 1) uneven access at home & school, differences in attitudes between boys and girls 2) patterns of female participation and identifying how it might be increased 3) exposing the ‘IT paradigm’ as culturally and historically male and the need to change this if female participation to rise 6

7 Females seen as the problem First two kinds ultimately reduce the problem to the relationship between women and computers (Volman et al 1995) The discourse ‘tends to be couched in terms of a male norm and a female deficit’ (Abbiss 2008:154) Where the problem is seen to be about females, the ‘solutions’ (and explanations) are bounded by this interpretation. 7

8 CC4G introduced in early 2000s To change target group’s perception of IT as a career by offering activities which appeal to girls in the club environment Within the target group, to counter the perception that IT is a male profession 8

9 How will CC4G fulfil its aims? ‘CC4G is packed full of exciting things to get girls interested in technology in ways that are relevant to them such as music, fashion and dancing, The clubs are run voluntarily by schools…outside of school hours to give girls the opportunity to learn about IT… we hope to encourage more girls to consider careers in IT’ (CC4G website 2009) 9

10 What is CC4G? CC4G offered free to schools from 2002/03 onwards. Originally funded by SEEDA (RDA) paying for development of the idea and resources, and implementation by e-skills UK (SSC ) Girls-only club targeted at year olds Girl-friendly look to web-based resource and ‘girly goodies’ (eg pink and purple pens, stickers, folders) 10

11 CC4G ‘solution’ responds to research findings Target age group - before girls’ attitudes thought to harden against a career in a male dominated sector and before key subject choice milestones Girls-only – in response to studies indicating girls’ have more negative attitudes towards computers than boys, and tend to under-estimate their ability and skills Girl-friendly look and goodies –attempt to create a social environment where girls would feel at ease ‘Club’ idea key to the design – girls more likely to respond positively to an informal, collaborative environment 11

12 So, CC4G can be located in a long line of initiatives based on the first two kinds of research identified, which conceptualise the relationship between women and computers as the problem CC4G solution based on increasing female access, reducing ‘situational stress’ and improving their confidence 12

13 Our evaluation Stage 1 (2005) – scoping, initial key informant interviews Stage 2 ( ) – questionnaire surveys of 89 past and 166 current members; profiling data of 9 schools; case studies of 9 clubs (interviews, focus groups, observation) Stage 3 ( )  Year 1: Interviews with 34 former CC4G members & 20 non-member girls;  Year 2: Interviews with same girls plus 20 boys 13

14 14 Widespread evidence for the view that all-female environment provided a space where girls could experience IT without disruption: ‘I think if boys joined… it would make girls feel as though they couldn’t express themselves in what they do in case they sort of say “that’s really dumb!” or something like that’ (year 10 past member) But, boys often seen as disruptive regardless of perceived gender orientation of subject, without this always having a negative impact on girls’ participation and attainment Removing boys doesn’t remove perception that IT more for males than females Key Findings 1: extent to which CC4G resolved issues associated with girls’ attitudes and confidence in IT

15 Cont. Assumption that girls’ confidence needs improving linked to them not liking IT/computers CC4G reported as improving levels of confidence and attitudes but majority of members said they were already confident prior to joining the club Overall evidence indicated that girls do not have particularly negative attitudes towards IT, or feel under- confident about their skills Raises questions about value of initiatives based on female deficit 15

16 Key Findings 2: gendered activities creating relevance or stereotypes? CC4G activities revolving around fashion, make –up and room design mentioned as favourites – IT in a female wrapper? Gender-gearing strategy limits scope of occupations included and reinforces stereotypes of females as IT users of applications rather than creaters/software developers (male domain) Impact of practicalities – facilitator expertise, time available 16

17 Key findings 3: participation in IT-related courses Little evidence that CC4G had increased participation at KS4 (years 10/11) or KS5 (years 12/13) But it was experience of IT as a school subject that influenced girls not to pursue IT further than they had to: “I mean IT is IT. You use it all the time and sort of like you don’t need to do a course in it.” (year 10 past member) Non-participation decisions justified by girls on basis of ‘don’t want to’ not ‘can’t do it’ 17

18 Key Findings 4: participation in IT-related careers Approx. a quarter of girls said they’d considered getting a job involving IT, although for vast majority focus was on using it: “…I’d be happy to have a job with IT in it but not a major aim, you know like working in computers or something” (year 13, past member) Stereotypical gendered assumptions: “ [women] can be doctors, nurses and therapists … they can see the work they’re doing helping someone.” (Year 9 past member) Lack of knowledge: “So we’re going to talk to you about IT jobs and you automatically think Oh God, this is going to be boring… and then you sort of switch off.” (year 11 past member) 18

19 Discussion and Conclusion Evaluation of CC4G raises questions about the conceptualisation of the ‘problem of girls and IT’ and hence the solution adopted by the initiative Changing context - computers now ubiquitous and most think they ‘know ‘enough to use it in their chosen careers Evidence that girls-only, girl-friendly nature of club appeals and helps explain why girls joined but v little evidence that it had increased their propensity for IT courses and careers High fliers don’t consider IT/computing high status 19

20 Cont. Focus of activities stereotypically gendered and non- technical in content – this approach misinterprets the problem and replicates rather than challenges existing divisions Norms about what aspects of IT suit males and females clearly persist as do gendered ways of talking about and valuing different types of IT jobs (eg hard and soft metaphors) CC4G falls short of the challenge associated with more radical strategies for tackling the gender imbalance, that seek to expose the gendered social constructions and discourses that underpin debates about the gender gap 20

21 Some key implications Evaluation of CC4G shows that initiatives that have a feminine orientation are likely to attract female participants but unless the content and processes go well beyond this orientation, the strategy is unlikely to transform female decision-making and patterns of participation in IT-related courses and careers Many of the aspects of the IT curriculum that put girls off pursuing further IT/computing courses and careers put off boys too Need for research on (gendered) learner identities, computing/digital technology and school to work transitions 21

22 Fuller, A., Turbin, J. and Johnston, B. (in press) Computer Clubs for Girls: The problem with seeing girls as the problem, Gender and Education,


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