Girls want coding funds: the push to keep women in tech

From teaching digital frogs to ‘floss’ to creating artificially intelligent chatbots, girls are cracking computer code these school holidays.

And the students, who are as young as six years old, are creating digital games alongside their mothers as part of first-of-their-kind workshops being held in Brisbane.

But course creators at the Girl Geek Academy say young girls need many more opportunities to engage with STEM subjects in Australia and greater funding to ensure they can grow their skills for the future.

The call comes as the federal government holds a Diversity in STEM Review, with findings due by the end of the year.

University executive Emma Lieschke said she enrolled daughters Madeleine, 8, and Sophie, 6, in the Mum and Daughter Coding Workshop to give them early exposure to technology and learn alongside them.

The girls, Ms Lieschke said, were particularly enthusiastic about making their own games while she was thrilled it was something “we’re doing together”.

“A lot of holiday programs are based around sports but I was looking for something different and to introduce them to skills they could use later in life,” she said.

“The best thing about today is they’re really excited, they’re really engaged with what’s going on and I can tell that when I get home I’ll get asked ‘can I get on that coding thing again?’”

Girl Geek Academy chief executive Sarah Moran said the courses, held at Queensland University of Technology, were developed to give girls and women a fun introduction to visual, block-based coding that they may have missed out on in classrooms.

“Being able to learn together generates conversations in families which is where the biggest influence comes from when it comes to learning tech,” she said.

“We’re used to stereotypes around ‘mum can’t even change the TV remote’ but being able to see mum as a role model means young women know they can turn to their mum when they get stuck.”

But Ms Moran said computing courses for girls were not as accessible or common as they should be in Australia due to a lack of funding despite the introduction of the Advancing Women in STEM Strategy in 2019.

In a submission to the government’s current Diversity in STEM Review, titled Enough Talk, the academy found women made up 36 per cent of university enrolments in STEM courses, 27 per cent of the workforce in STEM industries, 19 per cent of game developers and just 12 per cent of tech engineers.

A survey of 302 women employed in STEM fields also found 88 per cent were frustrated by a lack of investment in supporting women and 65 per cent did not think programs to address diversity adequately addressed technology roles.

Ms Moran said current national funding of $13 million for science, technology, engineering and maths support over three years would not address the gender gap or looming skills shortages that could hold industries back.

“We need to start that investment now to make sure (gender imbalance and skills shortages) don’t happen in future because it’s children today and tomorrow that will be the workforce and we need to make sure we’re doing everything to get all hands on deck,” she said.


Jennifer Dudley-Nicholson
(Australian Associated Press)


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