School kids turning away from computing subjects

Government, industry must act to attract more students into IT

One problem, according to Downes' research, is that girls don't engage with technology in a way that allows them to use it playfully, rather they use it functionally.

"So they haven't formed a relationship in such a way that they become insiders, and therefore they are not deeply attracted to thinking both creatively or critically about why and how it works. The patterns are not dissimilar to patterns around engineering and physics, but I think at the time of a skills shortage the industry is missing out on an enormous amount of talent and creativity," Prof Downes said.

"My sense is that an industry matures when it can attract a diversity of talents and a diversity of backgrounds and experiences to it -- be it the builders, makers, fixers or the people that train others to use it."

Downes indicated that initiatives such as the Tech Girls Are Chic, Not Just Geek book that was freely distributed to female Australian high school students, the Go Girl Go For IT initiative, the IT's million $ babes award and other AWISE programs do help attract more girls into IT, but she calls for a complete reformatting of young people's perceptions to careers in IT.

"Once you remove those programs you go back to the status quo. Programs that say this is cool tend to give permission to the girls that are interested but don't feel permitted to demonstrate their interests, but what about the larger group of boys and girls that don't believe its relevant or don't have 'insider' experiences such that they ask enquiring questions about how it works.

"To support the kids who are interested but who think its too geeky is one thing, but to fundamentally reframe some of the ways of thinking about how you build applications, how you solve problems, design environments, that's where I think the hard work needs to be done. We need to find ways to engage more young people so that they become 'insiders'."

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