National Curriculum switching girls off IT

The education system was blamed for female apathy towards careers in IT at a government conference on Wednesday

The National Curriculum is preventing girls from succeeding in IT, education experts argued at a conference organised by the government on Wednesday.

Speakers at the "Women in IT" conference hosted by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and Department for Education and Skills (DfES) agreed that the education system is to blame for female apathy towards IT. Teachers in computing argued that a change in curriculum is needed to alter the negative perception that girls have towards careers in the IT sector.

Inez Ware, advanced skills teacher at King Edmund School, claimed that government teaching standards are "hindering" IT opportunities for girls. "The National Curriculum doesn't work," she said. "It doesn't give enough time to ICT in schools -- computing has been described as taking up 5 percent of the timetable."

A shortage of teachers qualified to teach IT in schools has resulted in a government push for cross-curricular information and communications technology (ICT) learning. But according to Ware, this often results in computing skills being taught by substandard teachers who have the most available slots within their timetable. Such staff lack the expertise to ensure that girls and boys are receiving equal amounts of time on classroom PCs. "Cross-curricular ICT reinforces the gender bias," Ware argued.

Anne Cantelo, project director at e-skills NTO (the National Training Organisation for the Information Age), reinforced concerns that girls are being turned off IT at the early ages of 11-13. The secretary of state for trade and industry, Patricia Hewitt MP, also admitted that just one quarter of computer science graduates are female, while within the IT industry, just one in five professionals are women. "We need to make sure that schools have the right tools and teachers to help girls develop in IT," said Hewitt.

But according to Ware, the National Curriculum is failing to encourage girls to take up IT, as it does not take care to present the practical benefits of computing skills. "Teaching based on pushing through levels of achievement is not going to work with teaching girls IT," said Ware.

A representative of the DfES attending the conference accepted the points of criticism, but explained the need for maintaining consistency within the education system. "The curriculum needs to be kept under constant review -- but we want to avoid being criticised for tinkering too much," said Elizabeth Murray of the DfES.

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