It would be cruel to say that the teaching of computer science in Scottish schools is in crisis, but there is definitely a lot to think about.
Over the past decade, the number of secondary school teachers majoring in the subject has dropped by a staggering 20 percent.
As young people become increasingly dependent on IT skills as they advance in their careers, this decline means that in the future we will face significant problems with recruitment. In the Scottish education market, however, there is also a counter-movement to this pattern.
In certain colleges, attempts are being made to get kids interested in extracurricular computer science courses, such as coding clubs.
Girls and young women have been hesitant to engage in STEM subjects in the past, but in some of these voluntary school activities, they now make up more than half the class.
This is improvement, but it is not enough for Toni Scullion, a 34-year-old teacher at St. Kentigern’s in Bathgate, West Lothian. She created dressCode, a multi-award-winning charity aimed at raising awareness of computer science and encouraging girls through action-based learning to take up the subject.
The enthusiasm of Ms. Scullion to further close the gender gap in the subject was motivated in the classroom by a remarkable track record. Her interest has always been computer science, and she has been particularly worrying about the gender gap in classrooms.
“I love the subject, and no one has ever told me not to do it because I’m a girl,”I love the subject, and nobody ever told me not to do it because I’m a girl. For 10 years, I’ve been teaching, and I’ve grown fully into it.
“I organised a programming club shortly after I started this work. It drew boys and girls at first, but then the girls started coming – they didn’t like the boys being so noisy.
“I eventually begged them to come again, and they agreed, as long as the class was only for girls and I brought chocolate!” he says.
“At the same time, I was also running a co-ed club, and after a few months the girls started coming there – they felt a bit more confident by then.”
Ms. Scullion, fascinated by this, started conducting her own research and discovered that a gender gap had become structural in computer science.
“This had been a massive problem around the world for years. I went back in Scottish records to 1963 and found that more girls were studying computer science then than now. I thought that was outrageous and felt I had to do something to help.”
Not one to be daunted by a task – in recent years she has received a range of awards, including 2017 Cybersecurity Instructor of the Year and last year’s Gender Equity Champion of the Year, she came up with the dressCode concept.
The group has a non-profit status and seeks to create a network of school clubs to inspire girls between the ages of 11 and 13 to learn programming and identify technology opportunities.
In this way, they would be inspired to bridge the divide, build opportunities and broaden the talent pipeline between education and industry. The Scottish economy should benefit from this as well.
How does the dresscode work, then? He says, “We have an online portal where teachers can sign up to learn how to run a club based on the success we’ve had at my school,”
“Teachers are incredibly busy, and the idea is that they don’t have to do anything other than be there and encourage the young people,” he said.
It’s all free. They get online access to all the resources they can use, such as short videos. They can also create individual students’ individual online profiles. The girls obtain an email address from dressCode and then they can take part in a cybersecurity competition or learn to create their own games or build a web suite.
“Once they’re comfortable at that level, they can then create their own challenges using the skills they’ve learned, and they can then post them to a gallery and share ideas.”
The organization has been very successful for just a year, but almost 50 schools in 20 communities in Scotland have already signed up to participate.
“Schools have also signed up in countries such as Japan and Kazakhstan, which is really exciting. At the moment, dressCode is only intended for ladies, as the main objective is to promote c