On a mission to inspire girls to code
19 May 2017
Did you know that only a quarter of girls aged between eight and 12 claim to know anything about engineering and coding, and those that do say it’s ‘too difficult’ and ‘more for boys’?
Since 2014, as part of their education, children are learning not just how to work a computer, but how a computer works - skills that are now essential to succeed in our increasingly digital world. The overall vision was that it would provide a long-term solution to the skills gap between the number of technology jobs and the people qualified to fill them.
However, despite positive changes to the computing curriculum and the rise in after-school coding clubs, most girls’ perception of coding hasn’t changed. It’s still ‘not for them’, and consequently, the STEM workforce is still very much struggling to attract (and more importantly, retain) an equal representation of females.
So, we’re in a place where despite the fact that girls are being offered more advice and opportunities than ever before, women are still only making up 14% of our STEM workforce.
For a long time, I’ve felt that something significant needs to be done to change perceptions and remove this gender bias that is clearly sticking around!
It’s a topic I’ve spent months researching, because I’m keen to figure out a solution to how most girls feel about learning the languages of technology. The biggest drop-off in interest and confidence is after the age of twelve. So how do we keep girls interested, and engage more of them?
I approached this by thinking back to my own childhood. I was obsessed with playing computer games and dreamt of a career in game design, but I didn’t really believe I could do it. We weren’t taught programming at school and after taking a look at a few books on software engineering, I was convinced that these subjects were for people with completely different brains to mine. Towards the end of school, I decided that this career path wasn’t for me. I’d also never heard of any female games designers or engineers, so it felt unlikely that it would ever be possible for someone like me to build games.
Two decades later, realising that this is still the case for most girls out there, I decided to work with developers to create Erase All Kittens (E.A.K.) - the first ever Mario-style platform game designed to inspire boys and girls to learn professional coding skills, whilst encouraging creativity and critical thinking.
During the research stages, we highlighted a real need for those young people who have the aptitude for working out solutions for themselves, to be challenged in an engaging and creative way. A lot of the tools available to schools teach solely computational thinking (concepts of coding) to students aged 8-14, rather than progressing onto teaching practical skills that can be used to build creations on the web. Although computational thinking is essential, most tools use prescribed and pre-authored programs so that any student will eventually find the solution. With E.A.K., every player enters into a world where they create their own solution - guided through the technical issues with a carefully constructed dialogue.
Our thinking was that children learn languages quickly and easily from a young age - so why not keep them inspired by teaching them the real languages of technology? Right now, there appears to be a gap - there are lots of coding tools that teach computational thinking using programming languages made for kids, and some which teach far more advanced skills to older students - but nothing in between. We’ve designed E.A.K. to bridge that gap, aiming to create a tool which introduces syntax and professional languages to children as young as eight.
Solely through word-of-mouth, E.A.K. has 120,000 players in over 100 countries. The game's story-driven approach has also strongly appealed to girls, supporting us in our quest to encourage young women to love STEM!
Our world needs more scientists and engineers if we’re going to tackle major issues such as those surrounding renewable energy and climate change. We need to show children, girls in particular, that they can help to transform the world with the skills provided through programming and problem solving. With Erase All Kittens, we’re on a mission to do just that.
To find out more, please visit: eraseallkittens.com