January 23, 2021
Computer science as a compulsory elective only makes sense if the lessons are well done and the subject is taught in an exciting way. In some cases, students are left behind in STEM subjects and then a “can’t, don’t want” aversion develops.
**How can we get more girls interested in computer science at school? We asked female students and talked to Jola and Lilian about their motivation for STEM subjects. The two are currently involved with moinworld and attend the 11th grade at a high school in Hamburg’s suburbs. Read about their motivation to get involved with computer science and natural sciences and their suggestions on how schools could better tackle the subject.
I’m Jola, I’m currently in 11th grade and I’m taking physics as a profile subject. At school, I have been taking computer science for more than two years, which has become one of my which has become one of my favorite subjects. In this context programming and my interest in the IT sector was awakened. In my free time I like to make music (trumpet) and to ride horses.
I am Lilian and I also attend the 11th grade and I am also in the physics profile. Privately I am also interested in space travel. I didn’t choose computer science in school because I had to choose between chemistry and computer science and I already knew that I enjoy chemistry. In my free time, I like reading and photography.
What is the distribution of interests between girls and boys at your school? Is it still the case that girls tend to choose classic girls’ subjects?
The proportion of boys is significantly higher, especially in the subjects of computer science and physics. In the other MINT subjects, i.e. chemistry and biology, it is more balanced, especially in biology.
In the physics profile, I was the only girl for a while until Jola came along. The other girls tended to choose the language profile.
What is the situation specifically in computer science?
Informatics is offered as an elective subject in the eighth and ninth grade. From the choice of profiles, only the natural science profiles, physics, chemistry and biology, can choose the subject computer science. And even then, you have to decide which science subjects you want to take in addition to the profile subject. For example, I had to choose between chemistry and computer science.
Due to the fact that already less girls choose a scientific profile, the percentage of girls especially in the subject computer science is very low. Currently we have 17 students in computer science, of which only four are girls. In the middle school, the percentage of girls was higher, about one third. The fact that computer science can later only be taken in conjunction with other natural sciences excludes girls, who tend to choose other profiles.
What do you think made you decide to go in the STEM direction? What role do you think your parents play?
The experiences and points of contact one had with STEM subjects in childhood and at home definitely play an important and subconscious role in the decision to go in this direction. I was already good at math in elementary school and was always supported by my parents in my interest. My parents are not in the STEM direction professionally, but my mother had advanced math classes in school and was always able to get excited about math. I have seen female classmates who were influenced by their parents even before they started school, in that the parents were worried about STEM subjects and these fears were then transferred to the child, so to speak. Many parents take away the courage of children, especially girls, when they express concerns about STEM subjects, such as “that they are difficult or were difficult for you at the time”.
I have been enthusiastic about science for a long time and I love physics. In my opinion, my parents’ home also plays a major role. My father is a computer scientist and science has accompanied me throughout my childhood. We talked about science in the family from a very early age and asked a lot of questions, so it was clear to me that I was going in the STEM direction. My parents also never made gender-specific distinctions and, for example, encouraged my brother more for the STEM direction than me.
What are you doing in computer science class?
Now in high school, I think the teachers have to stick to the curriculum. In terms of the topics, programming definitely takes a part, mostly Python or Java. It always depends a little bit on the teacher. We also have theoretical topics, such as computer science and society, or we learn what machine learning is. In middle school, we also tried Scratch, for example, and worked on image processing.
Do you think that computer science classes are important for the future of female students? What do you learn there that you don’t learn in other subjects?
I think computer science should be a compulsory subject and I can recommend it to every female student. I also think it’s important to get a basic understanding of computer science. In addition, I find the logic in computer science very interesting, which I have not yet learned in other subjects. In math or physics, this approach also brings advantages, but I only learned them in computer science. It also took me a while until it “clicked” to understand how computers “think” and how programs work. That the computer can only ever do exactly what you yourself tell it to do.
Informatics lessons for students I also consider important. In particular, the topics of Internet security, responsible use of the Internet and basic PC skills, should be taught to everyone. However, I would not say that it should be a compulsory subject - although I am not sure about this. Because the interest in a subject depends, I think, always strongly on the lessons. If the lessons are boring, it could be more of a deterrent than a motivator. Basically, you learn things at school in a depth that makes you wonder if you’ll ever need them again later. On the one hand, computer science as a compulsory subject could get more people interested in the subject, which is very important for society because we will need more and more computer scientists as digitalization advances. On the other hand, it could happen that the same thing happens as with physics and chemistry. That it is taught poorly and people exclude the subject from the outset. Computer science as a compulsory elective only makes sense if the lessons are well done and the subject is taught in an exciting way. Sometimes students are left behind in STEM subjects and then an aversion arises “I can’t, I don’t want to”.
Another thing that comes to my mind is what computer science teaches you: the importance of English. I don’t know how many students actually realize how important English skills are later on in all areas.
What do you think should be done to get more girls interested in these subjects?
Even before they reach middle school, they should be taught what computer science is about, what’s fun about it, and that it’s not just something for boys. The clichés must be broken down and girls must be specifically addressed and encouraged! Preferably from a very young age.
I would say, simply design lessons in such a way that they actually get people involved and not just those who already had an enthusiasm for the subject. Because, due to our society, it’s still the boys who start out on their own. It has to be the case that you start from scratch and that everyone can get into the subject. Actually, of course, society would have to change in such a way that it is simply no longer a question. At school, it has to be clear that it’s something for everyone. When you realize that it’s fun, then you forget that someone once said that it’s for girls and that it’s for boys. Then it’s no longer a girl thing or a boy thing, but it’s your thing. And schools should manage to make this topic the children’s thing and try to inspire everyone. At the moment, it’s the case that the teacher or the lessons don’t change anything. It must be clearly communicated that computer science is a subject for boys and girls: Existing prejudices or fears must be specifically taken away from girls. Fun and enthusiasm for the subject should come to the fore.
There is something else that comes to mind: One should try to create a sense of achievement for students. I think that through a sense of achievement one is generally much more motivated to stick with it and to stay with it even with difficult tasks. For this sense of achievement, you should start small and not take too much for granted.
How does it feel to be the only girl in computer science class? How do the boys behave? The teaching staff?
You get used to it and in our class the boys behave very nice and also the teachers don’t distinguish between boys and girls. However, I think that the teachers are already adjusting to having more boys in the class.
I didn’t take computer science, but in the physics profile I was the only girl for half a year. I didn’t mind and I found that the boys were almost nicer to me than to each other. The teachers didn’t treat me any differently because I was the only girl.
Do you already know what profession you would like to pursue later?
I don’t know exactly yet, but it will definitely be in the STEM field. At the moment, I can imagine studying engineering because I like math. I also enjoy physics and chemistry, but I don’t know if research is my thing. When choosing a major, I look at what I enjoy and where my strengths lie.
I don’t have a concrete career idea yet. I would like to study and I think it should be a MINT course. I find computer science and math exciting and I would like to go into the IT industry.
Do you have any other suggestion?
We would like to see a gender balance in computer science, or rather in all professions, in the future. We believe that we need to give women the chance to discover their talents in classic “male professions/interests” like computer science. Girls need to be encouraged to try out and enjoy computer science.