Six boys for one girl in many areas of computer science education, new report finds – FE News

Girls now outnumber boys by six times in IT lessons, according to a new study by the IT trade body.

Once young women choose IT, they typically outperform their male counterparts, according to the new report from BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT.

The BCS report ‘Landscape Review – Computing Qualifications in the UK’ published today indicates that the gender gap has widened as information, communications and technology (ICT) has been replaced by the discipline computer science.

In Northern Ireland, the introduction of a wider digital technology option is attracting a higher percentage of girls, and Wales now also offers this version of the subject, BCS noted in evidence.

The report is the first to focus on demand for the subject in the four UK countries. It found that participation in computing in secondary education was stable or improving, although the number of people following professional computing qualifications was falling.

The research also confirmed a “growing appreciation” among UK employers and policymakers of the role of digital qualifications and rewards.

BCS recommended that working groups involving all four UK countries be formed to increase uptake of IT and digital skills, and to understand the IT labor market and the skills required by the industry.

He called on high-level politicians, business leaders and school leaders to promote computer science as an ambitious choice with the same level of respect as other sciences.

Parents and guardians of girls who excel early in STEM should also feel confident to inspire them to pursue A-levels in IT and digital careers.

Better data was needed to fully understand the underrepresentation of students from minority ethnic groups, the Institute added.

IT participation rates in Scotland, which had been falling steadily in recent years, rose in 2021, helped by the growing popularity of new digital-focused awards.

Maintaining a pool of qualified IT teachers is also a common challenge for all nations; the DfE-funded National Center for Computing Education (NCCE) is starting to tackle this problem in England, supporting more than 30,000 teachers.

Professor Dame Muffy Calder, chair of the BCS School Curriculum and Assessment Committee (SCAC) who commissioned the report, said:

“I want every child to be as inspired by the power of computing to change the world as I was and still am.

“This means that computer education and skills must be highly valued and promoted by leaders in government, education and industry as well, as a way to shape the future.

“Fortunately, the overall message of this groundbreaking report is that the demand for computer science education is indeed increasing. Yet all of the UK countries in this study have a long-standing problem with the balance of male and female participation in academic and professional fields.

“While 2:1 male:female ratios were not atypical in older information and communications technology (ICT) curricula, the shift to a more computer-focused approach has seen the imbalance increase: most often around 5-6:1 level.

“This is important because teams developing, for example, the use of AI in medicine or algorithms that affect our financial lives or our chances of employment must be diverse to ensure that the results are fair and relevant to all members of society.

“There may be lessons to be learned from some of the vocational IT qualifications where a small number of subjects show a better gender balance or, from the introduction of ‘wider’ digital technology university qualifications in Wales and in Northern Ireland.

“What emerges for the first time from this report is that every UK administration, in its own way, is facing a real challenge: a tension between teaching IT and digital skills for all.”

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