Girl’s Aspirations, Northfleet School for Girls

Introducing girls to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects at school and encouraging them to think about taking up careers in these subjects later in life remains a challenge. The Social Market Foundation recently estimated a 40,000 shortfall in the number of STEM graduates in the UK, yet these subjects offer high potential for rewarding careers.

The Hour of Code UK Campaign was launched recently to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the world wide web – and it attempts to teach people the basics of coding in an hour – and raise awareness about coding and its applications. Former Women’s Business Council member and current Chair of Tech City Joanna Shields is a keen advocate for the project and one of the aims is to spark more interest from women, because computing tends to be a skill set that is uniquely male.

Efforts are being made to challenge people’s perceptions about what computer programmers look like, to dispel the myths about geeky men. For those involved in the project, there are concerns that despite the UK being one of the most creative places in the world, there are gaps around technology.

But one school is pioneering coding as part of the Code.Org initiative led by Nicki Cooper, computing teacher at Northfleet School for Girls and a Computing at School Master Teacher. The school has seen some pleasing results from its work in this area. Nicki says “I watched a group of girls recently, in the computing class, physically getting excited, bouncing in their seats, making a racket, because they were writing a computer program, and they got it to work!”

The girls at the school have been actively encouraged to express themselves and have been experimenting with Minecraft and building their own computer games and there is a growing consensus that it is important to expose children and young people to these sorts of skills. Whether it is mathematics or coding, this is a language that that is now powering everything that is happening in the world of technology at the moment.

Students at the school have recently been taking part in the Kodu Game lab and TouchDevelop, with some of the more advanced students trying out JavaScript, too.  This has been supplemented by lunchtime activities on large touchscreen displays that everyone can get involved with. Staff in other departments of the school, and the head teacher, were invited to try out the angry birds activity and the school has encouraged parents and even the governing body to get involved! That’s important – because at the moment, 98% of the UK doesn’t know how to code.

Earlier this month, the school was involved in the second annual Koduthon at Microsoft HQ, which is basically a hack-a-thon style event where children were given the opportunity to enter the adult world and develop a solution to a given scenario in the Kodu Game lab. This was a great way for the girls to increase their understanding of the technology and increase their skills. The students also had the opportunity to train up Microsoft employees in the world of Kodu – which was a great way for the girls to demonstrate teaching skills and build their own confidence.

The teaching staff at Northfleet School for Girls and the Tech City advocates of coding are united about one clear message. The digital world fills everyone’s lives these days and women need to feel confident about, and literate in, the use of technology – because the possibilities are limitless.

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