Young women in the UK are alienated from computers. Reva Klein looks at an award-winning pack that isintended to counter the problem.
A worrying number of girls and women in this country are alienated from, or uninterested in, information technology at school and in the workforce. Where 50 per cent of French students taking masters degrees in computer science are women, in this country the numbers of women pursuing higher education courses in the subject plummeted from 24 per cent in 1978 to a mere 10 per cent in 1991.
The ramifications of this on women's marketability in the labour force are serious. We may be hurtling towards the new millenium, but our school-leavers seem trapped in a Fifties pre-feminist, pre-equal opportunities time warp in which girls continue to seek secretarial jobs, hairdressing and the caring professions while boys gravitate towards building, engineering and you guessed it computing.
The National Council for Educational Technology has produced a new pack to address these issues. A feature in NCET's three-year development plan aimed at reversing the trend of girls turning their back on computers, Why Me? Why IT? is being sent free to every school in the country in a bid to target girls directly. And its video has already won a major prize the gold award of the International Video Communication Association.
With its noisy computer design, it grabs rather than asks for attention. Photocopiable sheets offer case studies of perfectly normal young women who use IT in their work and love their jobs. There are also quizzes that present fallacies and truths about computers, a word-hunt exercise and a horoscope that shows that whatever your star sign, computers can have a place in your life.
Accompanying the pack is the video. Presented by a zappy young woman, it effectively demonstrates the ubiquity of IT not only in the world of work but in everyday life.
You don't have to be a computer nerd in a blue anorak to use a mobile phone or a cash dispenser and neither, the video shows through the example of some young women, do you have to be obsessive and talk in jargon to use IT for fashion and graphic design or even to be a multimedia programmer. The idea of technology and creativity being mutually exclusive territories is skilfully scuppered.
The pack manages to inform without proselytizing, serving as a catalyst for classroom discussion and more focused input from careers advisers and IT specialists. It's a well-conceived attempt to open minds and shift attitudes.
The next stage in the NCET's "Attracting girls to IT" project will be working with primary age girls. Perhaps now is the time for the software publishers to get serious and start producing programs and games that draw girls in and keep them amused and engaged with not an anorak in sight.
* See The TES next week for details of our special co-sponsored "Why me? Why IT?" competition