A girl sitting at desk leaning on it with her arms folded as if she is very bored or sad. There is a pair of blue headphones beside her and a laptop in front of her indicating she is studying computer science.
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Google report says lack of support is stifling girls’ tech education in Europe

11 Jul 2023

Girls in Europe need positive role models working in computer science, with Google’s findings proving the old adage ‘if you can’t see it, you can’t be it’.

The main barriers facing girls in Europe when it comes to computer science education include limited peer networks, lack of parental knowledge of tech, lack of a supportive learning environment or role models and the perception of computer science as a subject rather than a skill to develop for life.

These barriers were identified by Google as part of its deep dive into the state of computer science education for young girls. The tech giant’s subsequent report, Breaking Barriers, has been informed by interviews with more than 3,000 students and education leaders in Europe.

Spain has the highest percentage of girls studying computer science (28pc) and it also has the highest percentage of girls with an interest in the subject (33pc). The UK has the least amount of girls studying computer science at 14pc, followed by Ireland at 17pc. Just over a fifth of Irish girls surveyed say they want to study computer science, which is the second lowest ahead of the UK. This means that levels of interest in computer science roughly correspond with the number of girls actively studying it.

Role models required

Only 12pc of girls in Ireland feel they understand computer science, which is the lowest percentage of all the countries Google surveyed. One of the most notable findings in the report is the need for more support for girls specifically. They don’t have enough role models to look up to and their perception of what it’s like to work in computer science can be affected by negative stereotypes. Just over a quarter (26pc) of Irish girls say that seeing more people like them in computer science would make them more confident about their own tech learning abilities. This was the highest percentage out of all the European countries.

An example of an Irish computer science role model for young girls is Aoibheann Mangan from Claremorris in Co Mayo. She has spoken out about the need for computer science to be provided in all Irish secondary schools as a Leaving Certificate subject.

Teaching culture needs to change

Teachers and educators in some schools often don’t have a specialism in computer science and are teaching it on top of their own subjects like maths and science. Roughly two-thirds of European education systems at lower secondary level use teachers with specialisms outside of computer science to teach the subject.

This, too, is harming students’ learning experience as it means that the teachers may not be as up-to-date with tech as they could be. It also means that they perhaps don’t devote enough time to encouraging students to develop their tech skills.

Google recommended that computer science should be taught in combination with other subjects, particularly the humanities. This would show young girls and boys that computer science is a wide-ranging skill for life and not just an isolated subject. Irish girls demonstrated an interest in learning creative tech skills such as coding, web design and graphic design.

The educator-student relationship is particularly important to Irish girls as 55pc said that their teacher made learning a better experience. But learning continues in the home also, and many parents in Europe are not able to support their children because they lack tech skills and understanding themselves.

Commenting on the findings in the report, Shanika Hope, director of education for social impact at Google, said that computer science is “a fundamental skill” alongside reading, writing and maths. “Every student deserves the chance to access a computer science education to help shape their future. But the underrepresentation of minority groups, including women, is a pervading challenge and represents a significant loss of talent, diversity and economic opportunity – to the tech sector and beyond.”

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Blathnaid O’Dea
By Blathnaid O’Dea

Blathnaid O’Dea worked as a Careers reporter until 2024, coming from a background in the Humanities. She likes people, pranking, pictures of puffins – and apparently alliteration.

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