It's time to stop letting girls think they're bad at tech
I want you to picture someone saying '...but i'm not good at I.T.'.
Who do you think of? What gender do you associate with that comment and what age do you imagine that person to be?
You see, my work space is open plan and I overhear this A LOT, not only from students but from teachers as well. Other frequently used remarks include, 'I can't code' or 'technology doesn't work for me'.
I feel both sad and frustrated that the internalised feelings of self doubt these young women may possess is being reinforced to them everyday. How do we expect girls to consider future career and study paths in technology when they don't feel like they have anything to contribute to it, that they're worthless?
There are girls in our schools who are constantly having this perception of weakness that is being ignored, brushed aside or belittled by their supportive network (i.e. teachers, friends, family, etc.). I'm particularly worried that these negative perceptions can slowly grow and will become more ingrained as these girls get older. These girls turn into the young women who look at technology as a hindrance, a hurdle, a mountain to climb. It is unlikely that these girls will consider technology as an aid, an enabler or amplifier of their voice and unique perspectives.
How can you, as an individual, shift the culture of girls feeling dis-empowered by technology?
Firstly, we need to attempt to define this perception of "not being good at I.T.". Can we safely assume that these students assume that their lack of ability stems from their perception of someone being good at IT as being a Steve Jobs, Bill Gates or an antisocial gamer they see in shows, movies or online media? Here is our first problem. The social stereotypes associated with being a young woman who is good at technology can sometimes tie in with themes of masculinity, social ineptitude and being a "geek". The technical language of technology doesn't help this issue either. New terminology is constantly being introduced into our vernacular (e.g. AR/VR/MR, cryptocurrency, vodcasts) and these students are trying to grasp and process these concepts of new words to understand if it is relevant to them. Alike learning a new language, whilst you're in the middle of learning how to drive, it's hard to focus and contextualise or prioritise what's important to know if there's too much noise and distraction.
So what can you do to stop a student from thinking that they're not good at IT? I have some questions you could ask to help break the stigma with their negative perceptions of ability with technology:
1. Are you good at sport? I usually ask this question to prompt students to think about their sporting abilities. I challenge them to think of someone they know who is good at ALL sports, e.g. fencing, water polo, skiing, marathon running and football? They usually answer, "no one" or "not many" and thats when I lead into getting them to think about people not being good at all types of tech. Everyone finds their own niche or type of technology that interests them, just because you're not into coding doesn't mean you're not good at tech.
2. Do you have a phone? Let's not forget that smart phones are more powerful than most technology we grew up with. I remember owning an Omega Commodore 64, the keyboard alone was so heavy I couldn't lift it! Our students have grown up in a generation of technology that is compact, fast and cheaper which means probably have access to or own personal devices. Exposure and use of mobile technologies is often through a variety of apps designed for specific purposes. I recently watched a video tutorial about designing social media posts and the user selected a total of five apps to effectively edit a professional video. Quick, fast, simple and effective for the purpose.
3. How do you access information? We need to emphasise to our students that their use of the Internet to research, investigate and collect data for their own interests, classwork and assessments is a skillset. They use video to learn how to discover, make, design and solve. Consumption of information is frequent and fast and updates to online services happen often. Online portals, virtual classrooms, social media, messaging services and e-commerce are all different facets of technology that our students are exposed to in their day to day use. The globalisation of technology has enabled seamless access to information and has increased the necessity for critical thinking skills when conducting research.
Our female students' adaptability to change in the digital world is reflective of the pace of development to technology in their lifetime. It is up to us, as the adults, mentors and role models, to also change their mindset and perceptions of themselves in that world that will help pave the path for them to open their minds to opportunities that involve technology in the future.