Short and Sharp: Challenging Girls to Become Programmers

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Short and Sharp: Challenging Girls to Become Programmers

Raewyn Boersen
Eastern Institute of Technology, New Zealand

Alison Hunter
Manukau Institute of Technology, New Zealand

There has been much research about the lack of women in IT education and the IT industry in the western world and various schemes have been put forward to try to encourage more women to be involved with IT.

The Programming Challenge 4 Girls (PC4G) is a New Zealand based initiative to introduce 14 year old high school girls to programming in the hope that some of them will find it stimulating and subsequently choose programming as a career. This cohort is targeted because girls of this age have not yet chosen examination subjects and would therefore be able to make appropriate choices for a career in programming.

The PC4G is a one day annual event, typically hosted by an institute of higher learning. No prior programming experience is assumed and the girls spend the first two experiential hours teaching themselves Alice. If they need support, their teachers help them; an auxiliary benefit giving a professional development opportunity for teachers whose knowledge of programming may be minimal. The girls then go on to compete in a two and a half hour Challenge where they solve a multi-part problem designed specifically to appeal to their age and interests. The final part of the Challenge allows the girls to story-book and then code a problem of their own design. The girls work in pairs and are rewarded with certificates of participation as well as gold, silver or bronze medals for meritorious achievements.

A research project was recently undertaken to determine whether experiencing the PC4G influenced the participants into considering programming as a career option. In this pilot study, 23 students from 12 schools completed a six-part survey. Results show that the PC4G is a highly effective tool in introducing girls to programming: An impressive 82% of the girls agreed that the PC4G had made them more interested in programming and 91% wanted to know more about careers in programming. In addition, 61% of the girls would currently consider programming as a career option.

Keywords: computing, programming, careers, gender, girls, challenge, PC4G, New Zealand