Although in the UK girls are academically outperforming boys at most levels the number of girls studying Computer Science at University and A-Level has been steadily declining for years.
Even though there are more females at University, UCAS reported in 2016 that there were 13,085 more male students studying Computer Science than female students. This is by far the largest gender gap in any subject where males outnumber females.
Whilst the need for Computer Programmers has been steadily increasing leading to a skill-shortage in the UK why has interest in studying Computer Science and IT been declining amongst female students? It certainly can’t be low pay as Programmers and Web Developers can demand some very high and ever increasing salaries due to the skill shortage. The issue isn’t just that girls have been slower to take up Computer Sciences than boys but that their numbers have been declining when ‘gender equality’ legislation has never been greater than today. Computer Science and Information Technology is one of the most important and relevant fields of study – one that impacts and influences the daily lives of most people throughout world – it is almost inexplicable that fewer and fewer girls and young women choose to study this.
Computer technology permeates all our lives, how we live, work, play and communicate.
This decline is not just in the UK but the USA too. 34% of Computer Science degrees were awarded to women in 1984.
By 2014 this number had decreased to just 18%.
It is often said that the initial interest in computing starts with computer games
and that these are primarily marketed at boys. However, since the first ‘Gaming’ degree was offered in 2012, female students have been increasing year on year in this branch of Computer Science although they still represent only 12% of students that study this.
Some cite the lack of female role models in the Industry and this does currently appear to be the case but it hasn’t always been that way.
At the very beginning of Computing, it was Ada Lovelace who wrote the first algorithm in 1843 for Babbage’s Analytical Machine, having the ‘vision’ to see that its potential went beyond solving calculations. In the 1950s Admiral Grace Hopper was central to designing the forerunner of the COBOL computer language. The successful Apollo missions of the 1960s wouldn’t have been so successful without Margaret Hamilton’s software. Women have been central to the development of Computer Science until the 21st century.
It is a very complex issue and one that we at BEIS can simply help to resolve by using computer technology as a natural part of learning. We use computer technology at the very beginning of every child’s education making it as natural and ‘everyday’ as using pens, paper and books. The very basis of all computer programming, Coding, is taught from the earliest levels to all students irrespective of their gender. Computer Science should not, and is not, the preserve of either men or women nor girls and boys – it is for everyone.