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Teaching Girls to Code

By Swetal Shah

· Technology,Women

Most girls are intimidated by the language of technology. Only a quarter say that they know anything about engineering and coding and those that do, describe them as “more for boys” and “too difficult”. The biggest drop-off in interest is after the age of eleven.

There is a clear educational need for a new approach to coding in a gender context. It is estimated that less than 18% of girls participate in code education outside of school, and just 8% of the engineering jobs are held by women.

Our vision is to transform this perception and empower girls to enable them to tap into growing opportunities in the tech sector. In order to do this, we plan to create the first ever learning tool that inspires girls age 8-13 to code through the professional languages used by websites and web apps—HTML, CSS and Javascript.

Our key objective is to improve and build upon our existing learning tool, Erase All Kittens (E.A.K.) - the first game designed from the ground-up to inspire girls to code whilst equipping them with practical coding skills.

E.A.K. currently consists of 60 minutes of gameplay content teaching basic HTML syntax via a unique "build and fix" mechanism, a story-driven gameplay, and an interactive dialogue. Solely through word-of-mouth, E.A.K. has 125,000 players in over 100 countries, and 53% of them are girls.

We plan to research and investigate different methods of code education in order to effectively teach HTML, CSS and Javascript, to girls.. Our main areas of focus will be to invent effective ways to teach CSS and Javascript and to beta test different methods of learning with female students.

Our solution is innovative as it has been built from the ground-up to be incredibly engaging to our target group. We have interviewed hundreds of girls and immersed ourselves in the culture of our target audience for eighteen months before inventing a highly gamified, story-driven approach to teach unfamiliar skills to complete beginners. Beta-testing for one year with Oasis Academies in the UK showed that E.A.K. inspires female students to become researchers, teachers, problem solvers, team builders, writers, designers, and coders.

A tool specifically designed to inspire girls to code and create, would allow them promising benefits. Primarily, this would help them grow with more confidence in our increasingly digital world. They can become future creators of influential technologies. Such will also allow them to earn an equal amount of wage with their male counterparts. Moreover, they can become the much-needed role models of the next generation.

We aim to help improve gender equality in tech which in turn will address the chronic skills shortage in the tech market. We are designing and building E.A.K. to deliver essential skills and capabilities to girls to prepare them for 21st Century degrees and careers, so that they can participate in the economy and society. Our goal is to allow them to acquire the skills to enable them to become tomorrow's innovators and creative problem-solvers. We are also creating a one-for-one scheme - for each E.A.K. account bought, a free account will be given to a girl in Syria or India - via NGOs we have partnered with, e.g. Techfugees.

Around 100 million students have downloaded programs from the Hour of Code initiative, which suggests a sizeable market of users trying to up their skills. There are around 6000 code clubs teaching 83,000 students in the UK, and more than 10,000 teaching 100,000 students globally. The average ratio of boys to girls who attend coding clubs is estimated at approximately 5:1. Girls Who Code, a non-profit organisation providing coding clubs for girls aged 8+ in the US, has grown from 20 to 40,000 girls in just four years - this shows that there is far more interest when girls are targeted separately.

By encouraging girls to start coding, we can start to grow a more gender-balanced digital workforce. This opens up new opportunities for employment for girls in the years ahead and will act as a bulwark as we seek to keep the leading tech economy. With only 5% of start-ups headed by women, the need to fuel innovation and new ideas is essential.

By eliminating the negative perception that girls have of technology, and providing an engaging, creative way to effectively learn real coding languages, E.A.K. will help to prepare girls for 21st Century careers.

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