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Girls are outnumbered 6 to 1 in computer science class — how can we even the score? 

October 4, 2022 No Comments

by Edwin Owusu Peprah

According to recent research by the British Computer Society (BCS), boys outnumber girls six to one in UK computer science classes, The Register reports. This is ironic given the finding that young women who do study computing generally outclass their male counterparts on this score.

Both of these discoveries by the BCS were derived from publicly available data collected over the five-year period of 2016/17 to 2020/21. This data indicates a gender imbalance in computer science classes across all four UK nations: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. 

Is this gender discrepancy a deep-rooted problem?

Numerous statistics do suggest so. The underrepresentation of women in computer science has been touched upon as long ago as 1991 — when, in a research paper published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), it was said that only 13% of PhDs in the year prior were rewarded to women.

Another revelation of the document was that women comprised a mere 7.8% of computer science professors. It could be argued that a lack of female role models for girls who might consider computing as a career choice seemingly remains problematic to this day.

The UK has continually struggled to get a sufficient number of qualified teachers in computer science — though the National Centre for Computing Education, which is funded by the UK’s Department for Education, has at least alleviated the issue by supporting over 30,000 teachers.

How could the gender imbalance be rectified?

Dame Muffy Calder, chair of BCS’s School Curriculum and Assessment Committee, has commented: “Computing education and skills need to be highly valued and promoted by leaders in government, education and industry too, as a route to shape the future.”

Calder added that the current situation is a concern because “teams that develop, say, the use of AI in medicine, or algorithms that affect our financial lives or employment chances need to be diverse to ensure outcomes are fair and relevant to everyone in society.”

However, Calder — herself a Glasgow University professor of computer science — suggested that some cues could potentially be taken “from some of the vocational qualifications in computing where a small number of topics show a better gender balance”.

Where else could education leaders look for inspiration?

Interestingly, 2021 figures from the UK university admissions service UCAS indicate that, in higher education, the overall popularity of computer science steadily increased during the almost decade-long period from 2011 to 2020.

One possible reason for this trend could be the introduction of the Raspberry Pi. The first order for  this miniature, customizable computer was taken in February 2012 — and, just last year, seven million Raspberry Pi units were sold, according to The Verge.

The Raspberry Pi was conceived in the first place as a way of encouraging more people to apply for computer science degree study at the University of Cambridge. Today, by shopping at a specialist online store like The Pi Hut, young people — both male and female — can easily source not only Raspberry Pi units but also components to use with them.

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