1 AWE POLICY
GIRLS AND INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATION TECHNOLOGIES Rationale
Girls and women are under-represented in professional Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) careers and studies. The Australian Computer Society states that, “Information Technology is one of the fastest growing industries in Australia today, yet only about 20% of the people who work in the ICT industries are women”.1
It is particularly important for women teachers to realise the benefits of ICT for themselves and for the students they teach and that ICT is necessary to live, work and participate in society. Advancements in ICT are transforming society. While ICT is an essential tool for most occupations in the 21st century, it is also important that all societal groups including women guide how technology impacts on society. Teachers, in particular, will need to continue to develop ICT competencies and a critical awareness of the role ICT plays in education.
As technology progresses, the nature of work in the ICT industry evolves and changes. It is important that girls and women have the opportunity to participate in these emerging jobs of the future so that they can benefit in terms of financial security and work satisfaction. Women represent a massive untapped resource and pool of talent for the ICT sector. If girls and women are to be equipped for living and learning, the gender imbalance needs to be addressed.
Prominent U.S. researchers, Dr Allan Fisher and Dr Jane Margolis state, “The under-representation of women among the creators of information technology has serious consequences, not only for those women whose potential goes unrealized, but also for a society increasingly shaped by that technology.” 2 Many students, teachers, parents and community members are unaware that there is an under-representation of women in ICT careers and studies. Raising awareness is an important first step to solving the problem.
Partnerships among schools, TAFEs, universities, women working in the ICT industry, professional associations, education systems and other government agencies are an essential ingredient to increasing the number of young women choosing to study and work with ICT.
The Association of Women Educators (AWE) encourages education systems and schools to take action to employ strategies that redress the gender imbalance in ICT.
Across all sectors of the economy, there were 355,600 ICT professionals in Australia in November 2004. Figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics reveal that women comprise only 20 per cent of ICT employees and only 25 per cent of ICT university students. Female participation in ICT studies is decreasing from year to year.3
ICT is not a career path that many women aspire to. Conversations with many successful women in the ICT industry reveal that they did not actually pursue a career in ICT, they just fell into it. Girls and young women will continue to be under-represented in ICT careers and studies until it becomes the first study choice for girls.
The barriers which prevent women and girls from participating in ICT need to be identified and creative solutions developed to encourage them to study ICT and work in ICT-related professions.
Girls’ perceptions and attitudes to study and careers in ICT are identified as strong factors in their low participation rates. The Australian Computer Society identifies that girls have the following perceptions about ICT careers and studies:
It would be a boring job
ICT attracts nerds
You have to be good at Maths
It is too technical. 1
In reality, ICT is a fully human discipline that is about solving problems for people. The British Computer Society reports that industries seeking to attain a competitive edge seek employees with skills in “communication, networking, teamwork, sensitivity, balance and the ability to analyse vast amounts of data and apply creative and lateral thinking”.4
Attitudes and career knowledge of teachers, career counsellors and parents also contribute to girls’ low participation rates.
Shashaani (1993) concluded that gender differences were influenced by socialisation and achievement and closely associated with teacher and parental expectations about the capacities and competencies of girls and boys.8 Research argues that attitudes towards computers and ICT are shaped early in primary school and are influenced by peer, teacher and parental attitudes. Students’ interest in computers is linked to the amount of encouragement they receive from parents, teachers, school career counsellors and peers. A study of primary school children aged 7 and 9 found that ‘there is little difference between girls and boys in their appreciation of the importance of computers and in their individual performance on specific computer tasks’. Yet gender stereotypes are perpetuated regardless of ability.5 Studies in the 1990s indicated that boys tended to use computers more often in school, to make use of computer labs, and to dominate computers when available in co-ed classrooms.5 Girls are also under-represented in ICT clubs and extra-curricular activities. Studies in the 1990s indicated that boys tended to use computers more often in school, to make use of computer labs and to dominate computers when available in co-ed classrooms. In secondary schools, girls are less likely than boys to voluntarily use an ICT for an action research project, or for lunchtime or free choice activities.5 Although the teaching profession has a higher proportion of women than men, ICT specialty teachers are more likely to be male. Teachers are among the first ICT role models for students. Research shows that teachers’ attitudes towards
ICT are influential and that teachers can play an integral role in recruiting girls for ICT. Girls lack strong female ICT role models. Girls are also affected by teachers’ expectations. If girls are not generally seen to be as competent with ICT as boys, this reinforces negative self-perceptions.5
A study conducted by the Commonwealth Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs noted that there is a marked gender difference in teachers’ ICT skill
levels. It stated that women teachers, especially those over 50 years of age and those in primary schools, are falling behind in both basic and advanced skills.6
Ethnicity, race and socio-economic status are also related to low participation and attainment rates in ICT. When gender and one of more of these factors are combined, there tends to be a cumulative affect.5 Defining ICT
Many definitions for ICT exist. In a broad sense ICT careers can be understood in terms of work that involves creating, storing, exchanging or using information through the use of electronic technologies. They include roles such as designing and developing software and hardware systems, providing technical support for computer and related systems; creating and managing network systems and databases.
In a report to DEST, Professor Ron Toomey stated:
Information and communication technology (ICT) generally relates tothose technologies that are used for accessing, gathering, manipulating and presenting or communicating information. The technologies could include hardware (eg computers and other devices); software applications; and connectivity (eg access to the Internet, local networking infrastructure, videoconferencing). What is most significant about ICT is the increasingconvergence of computer-based, multimedia and communications technologies and the rapid rate of change that characterises both the technologies and their use.7 Objectives of Policy
The objectives of this policy are:
To raise awareness of the under-representation of women and girls in ICT careers and studies;
To raise awareness of the changing face of the ICT culture and to debunk the myths which limit girls’ and young women’s thinking about ICT careers;
To raise awareness of the range of careers in the ICT industry;
Conduct branch seminars to raise awareness of the girls and ICT issues;
Conduct training sessions for women teachers to increase their skills in the use of ICT across the curriculum;
Conduct professional development for teachers that combines ICT skills and gender equity issues;
Seek funding for and conduct events or programs designed to increase awareness of girls and ICT issues. Target audiences for these programs will include students, teachers and parents/care givers;
Seek funding for a national girls and ICT strategy for AWE;
Work in partnership with other groups such as women in technology groups to develop a coordinated approach to girls and ICT;
Identify and target good practices in schools and publicise these through the AWE website, Redress, email lists, etc;
Provide examples, resources and linkages on the AWE website.
1 Australian Computer Society. Myths about women in in ICT Retrieved November 9, 2005 from https://www.acs.org.au/ictcareers/people/women.htm
2 Margolis, J., Fisher, A. (2002). Unlocking the Clubhouse: women in computing. Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
3 Department of Communication, Information Technology and the Arts (2005), Overview paper for breakout groups . Retrieved November 9, 2005 from http://www.dcita.gov.au/ict/events_and_forums/participation_summit/breakout_groups/overview_paper
4 British Computer Society (BCS). (2004). BCS thought leadership debate December 14, 2004: Women in IT report. Retrieved July 7, 2005 from http://www.bcs.org/BCS/News/ThoughtLeadership/pastdebates/womeninit
5 Deakin Centre for Education and Change, Institute of Koorie Education Deakin University, Institute of Disability Studies Deakin University (2003). Effective use of information and communication technology (ICT) to enhance learning for disadvantaged schools students Retrieved November 9, 2005 from http://www.dest.gov.au/archive/schools/publications/2003/ICT/ICTreport.pdf
7 Stoomey, R. Schooling Issues Digest No 2: Information and Communication Technology for Teaching and Learning Australian Government Department of Education, Science and Training Retrieved November 9, 2005 from http://www.dest.gov.au/sectors/school_education/publications_resources/schooling_issues_digest/schooling_issues_digest_technology.htm
8 Shashaani, Lili. 1993. Gender-Based Differences in Attitudes Toward Computers.