'Two-year-olds should be taught to code to tackle gender gap'

An ‘early start’, Stephanie Shirley claims, ‘would encourage women to become programmers and reduce gender stereotyping'
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Walk, talk, code. That should be the three aims of a two-year-old child of 2017, according to computing pioneer Stephanie Shirley. While most toddlers will be getting to grips with talking and walking, Shirley believes that children as young as two should also be introduced to the basics of coding. An ‘early start’, Shirley claims, ‘would encourage women to become programmers and reduce gender stereotyping'.

 “I don’t think you can start too early,” she said. “Most successful later coders start between five and six. “In a sense, those years are the best for learning anything, and means that programming [hasn ’t] become set in your mind as geeky or nerdy.”

She added: “Once you have an imbalance, the leaders of today define the leaders of tomorrow,” said Shirley. “It’s instinctive to recruit in your own image. I think some of this will continue until we actually learn to anonymise some of our relationships and computers help in that.”

Shirley’s comments came after A-level results last week revealed a striking gender divide in computing, with only 9.8 per cent of those taking the subject at A-level being girls. It comes at the same time that experts revealed that the world is facing a digital skills shortage as the number of jobs is outweighing the number of qualified workers.

An easy solution (it would seem): encourage girls to work get involved. "Today's announcement that nearly 7,600 students in England took A-level computing means it's not going to be party time in the IT world for a long time to come," said Bill Mitchell, director of education at the IT Chartered Institute, BCS. "At less than 10%, the numbers of girls taking computing A-level are seriously low. We know that this a problem starting at primary school and it's something that we need to address at all levels throughout education. As a society, we need to make sure that our young women are leaving education with the digital skills they need to secure a worthwhile job, an apprenticeship or go on to further study."

He added that the number fell well short of the 40,000 computer-related A-level takers that ‘we should be seeing’. A recent survey of 1,000 university students conducted by audit firm KPMG suggested that only 37% of young women were confident they had the tech skills needed by today's employers. A total of 73% said that they had not considered a graduate job in technology.

Aidan Brennan, KPMG's head of digital transformation, said: "The issue here isn't around competency - far from it - but rather how businesses understand the underlying capability of an individual and how to unlock it. "I think this research highlights the work that needs to be done to show the next generation that when it comes to a career in tech, gender isn't part of the equation. Competition for jobs is tough and we know that female job seekers can be less likely to apply for a role than their male counterparts if they don't feel they already possess every prerequisite the job demands."

PCR is set to celebrate successful women within the Channel at its annual Women of the Year awards on November 17.


PCR's Sector Spotlight on Education - in association with Westcoast - is running throughout August 2017 - click here for more articles

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