This week I have been out of school for a few days. Being away from school is always a dilemma for a Head as the school term moves at such a pace. However, spending quality time out helps broaden perspectives, build new connections and provide periods to reflect. This week has definitely provided all of those opportunities.
I started the week chairing the ISPN conference, which brought together school leaders to discuss some of the challenges and opportunities the sector is facing. For me, one area of particular interest was the role of technology in the future of education. We heard from a range of incredible experts, including our own Mrs Hudson-Findley, who spoke passionately about how technology, used with intelligence and insight, can transform the classroom and build the skills our young people will need. We shared best practice as we discussed the different stages schools were at on their digital transformation journeys. It was invigorating to recognise just how advanced BGS is both in our strategic approach and the application of tech into our teaching and learning.
Technology related industries are the fastest growing economic sector; we must ensure that our young people are digitally fluent, agile, understand emerging media and are transdisciplinary thinkers to flourish in the world that they will step into. Many of the jobs they will have will be in the so called 4.0 industries and all will rely on technology to facilitate their working day.
However, I am stunned by the gender imbalance in the tech sector. The World Economic Forum in 2020 reports that women account for only 22% of the tech workforce. Shockingly, according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), the percentage of students enrolled in a computing degree course at university in 2020/21 who were female was only 21. What is even more worrying, according to the British Science Association, is that currently the number of girls studying computing is actually declining. A decade ago girls made up 42% of the ICT GCSE entrants; not quite equal, but not far off. Fast forward to 2017 and that figure had dropped slightly to 39%. But by 2022 the percentage was in freefall at only 21%.
When you start to look a little deeper you realise that social, educational and cultural issues play a huge part in facilitating this gender imbalance. Traditionally, tech products have been designed by men, for men; the research and data collection has been carried out on men. The size of a mobile phone and a computer keyboard are designed for a male handspan; whilst voice assisted technology is over 70% more likely to respond to a male command. Equally, very few women hold senior leadership roles in the tech sector and there is evidence of a significant gender pay gap. A survey by PWC stated that out of 2,000 students 78% could not name a female role model in tech.
Unless we address these issues young women run the risk of being shut out of a huge global sector before they even reach the age of 20.
At BGS all of our students are digitally fluent; all have access to coding, robotics, virtual and augmented reality; they opt to take computer science at GCSE and continue to study it as part of the IB Diploma programme. There is no gender stereo-typing. At BGS girls lead the tech societies, girls enter tech competitions, they are all introduced to female scientists, talk to female engineers and female tech specialists. They are building the skills and knowledge from day one and are always encouraged to pursue their dreams. Our approach teaches our students that they are the innovators and that they should utilise the technology at their fingertips to facilitate their ideas. But our students are the lucky ones, sadly this is not replicated across the education sector.
As school leaders we need to work collectively to overcome this systemic challenge; we have a responsibility to champion all girls in all schools to ensure they have equal access to an education which inspires them to pursue careers in tech. I was pleased that we were given the opportunity to share what we are doing, so we can collaborate and support other educators as we build an equitable future for our young people. To me this was time out of school well spent.