Computer clubs attract girls to careers in information technology

The challenge

The IT sector in the UK is growing at between five and eight times the national rate, so we urgently need more people to choose a career in technology. And only one in five IT professionals is female.

Research indicates that a key barrier to girls considering careers in technology is their negative view of IT. These images are reinforced by seeing lots of men in technology jobs. Then after the age of about 13 or 14 such attitudes become more entrenched.

But by getting girls interested in technology at an early stage, and educating them about the many ways technology is used, the industry hopes that more girls will consider careers in IT.

The solution

Computer Clubs for Girls (CC4G), launched by the IT and sector skills council e-skills UK in June 2005, aims to change the way girls think about careers in technology.

Funded by the government and supported by employers, this award-winning initiative is already benefiting more than 65,000 students in 2,000 schools.

CC4G captures the imaginations of girls at an age when they often become disinterested in IT. The clubs are targeted at 10 to 14 year olds and are run voluntarily by schools as an out-of-hours activity.

The CC4G e-learning courseware is full of fun activities that get girls involved with technology in ways that are of interest to them – for example, through music, fashion, celebrity and design. Courseware, promotional material and ongoing support is provided by a dedicated CC4G team at e-skills UK.

Skills in practice

Fosse Primary School in Leicester has more than 320 pupils from a wide range of cultural backgrounds. Headteacher Steve Boyce involved the school in CC4G more than a year ago and now runs a weekly club for 18 girls.

The club is targeted at pupils aged 10 to 11 years old who are in years five and six at the school.

“I realised that CC4G could play an important role for our students, representing something constant at a time when their lives are changing rapidly,” explains Boyce. “I also thought CC4G would be a fantastic way to re-engage students after the school holidays as computers are something they would have spent a lot of time using during the break.

“After a year of running the programme, I have seen that computers can act as a highly effective bridge between leisure and school time,” he says.

The club runs for 75 minutes each Saturday morning during term and holiday time, and girls can enjoy a healthy breakfast while they are there.

“After a few weeks, the girls were so familiar with the format of the software that they were managing their own learning,” adds Boyce. “I was just playing the role of troubleshooter, on hand to sort out any problems they may encounter.”

The only expertise the facilitator requires to run a CC4G club are sound basic IT skills. Boyce even found he improved his own IT knowledge.

“Whether they are designing a mobile phone, composing a ring tone, using databases to book music bands or entering competitions, they love getting stuck in,” he says. “It is really empowering to work on the challenges together, and it also provides an opportunity to get to know your students better.”

The girls’ confidence has also increased, and Boyce feels they have acquired wider life skills, such as improved problem-solving abilities. One student with a degree of autism has become more independent as a result of joining the club, he says.

Fosse Primary’s CC4G programme has been so successful that local MP and secretary of state for health Patricia Hewitt came to visit to find out more.

“I’ve been involved in many initiatives that try to engage women in science, engineering and technology, and know how challenging it can be to make a significant impact,” Hewitt explains.

“My visit to this club has easily surpassed all those hopes.”

Employer involvement

Employers support CC4G by donating specialist software. Current technology donors include Gael, Idigicon, O-Music and Serif. Additional support is provided through school sponsorship, and supporting teachers’ training and development. An increasing number of employers are encouraging their staff to become involved with local CC4G clubs.

Many employers have hosted training events for teachers. The events are beneficial all round, helping employers to create relationships with schools in their local areas while teachers get an insight into industry and its use of technology.

For example, car manufacturer Ford has been working with CC4G to run training and networking events for teachers at its offices in Essex. It provides a speaker, equipment and light refreshments to an audience of about 30 CC4G club facilitators.

Some employers, such as IBM, run a group volunteering scheme. The company ‘adopts’ local schools and commits to help out on a regular basis. It gives the CC4G club members the chance to meet people working in the industry who already have the skills they are learning.

Benefits for employers

Employers who are involved in CC4G can raise their profile and reputation in the community and in education. Involvement in the scheme helps to place an employer in the forefront of young people’s minds when they start to look for a career. CC4G offers employers a major opportunity to expose their brand to girls across the UK.

Embedding CC4G within an organisation’s educational development plan offers a new approach to corporate social responsibility and community engagement.

CC4G increases the skills of current and future employees. As a result, there will be a larger, more diverse talent pool for businesses to choose from.

Employer view

“We are proud to be involved with CC4G and have been hugely impressed by the work and creative ideas that we have seen from the girls participating in the initiative. It has been hugely beneficial for us to meet teachers and discuss the importance of such a scheme in providing girls with IT skills and the confidence to use technology in the 21st century workplace. At Microsoft, we are passionate about technology and actively support a range of government and industry initiatives designed to encourage more women to pursue careers in IT.”

David Burrows, director of business strategy and marketing,UK public sector, Microsoft

Key facts

1 CC4G was officially launched in England in June 2005 with a national programme supported by the Department for Education and Skills.

2 It was pioneered by founding partner the South East England Development Agency, which also financed the project.

3 The scheme was launched in Scotland in March 2006 and is currently being piloted in Northern Ireland.

4 CC4G offers 61 hours of e-learning and 170 hours of offline projects and challenges, designed to appeal specifically to girls’ interests and develop skills valued by employers. The topics are combined with elements of Key Stage 2 and 3 ICT curricula.

5 By 2008, CC4G aims to have 3,600 schools and 150,000 10- to 14-year-old girls engaged in the scheme acrossthe UK.

6 CC4G is already transforming girls’ attitudes to careers in IT. At the last survey, 66% of CC4G members questioned said that they are now more likely to enter careers in IT.

Thanks to the following employers that have generously supported the programme so far:

Accenture, AEM, British Airways, British Computer Society, BT, Caboodle Solutions, Cisco, Citigroup, Creative and Cultural Skills, Dell, EDS, Ford, Fujitsu, Gael, Goldman Sachs, IBM, Idigicon, JP Morgan, John Lewis, KPMG, Lehman Brothers, Logica, Millennium Volunteers, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, MTV, O-Music, Oracle, Orange, Serif, Sopra Newell and Budge, Skillset, Standard Chartered, Smart 421, Thoughtworks, T-Mobile, Unilever, and Women in Technology.

Other partners include: Inspection and Advisory Service, School Improvement Service, Curriculum ICT, Extended Schools, Study Support, Schools Library Service, City Learning Centres, Playing for Success Centres, Local Libraries, Centres of Vocational Excellence, and New Technology Institutes.

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