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3 tried & tested tricks for equity in the classroom

This International Women’s Day, we must move from talking about getting girls into STEM to acting on making classrooms more equitable.

Kate Arthur
4 March 2020

It’s an old tale; we need more women in tech, so more girls must study STEM subjects. This International Women’s Day, let’s move on.

We must create equity in classrooms to inspire children to use technology to achieve the U.N.’s Global Goals for Sustainable Development.

The problem of female under-representation in tech has been studied at length: less than 1 in 10 women with a bachelor’s degree studied a STEM subject. Less than a third of those female STEM graduates are going on to work in their field of study. One in three women working in tech worldwide identify a lack of female leaders as negatively impacting their career.

The problem is deep-rooted, and awareness isn’t enough. We need radical action to create equal opportunities and equitable education.

In my own formative years, I experienced education systems around the world - from Argentina, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia, to the U.K. and Canada. It was seeing my own daughters embracing technology at a pace that outstripped my own that inspired me to launch Kids Code Jeunesse (KCJ).

Our children need a comprehensive education that covers important foundational skills of creativity, collaboration, and experimentation. These are the tools they need to confidently create with technology in an empowered and responsible manner.

Since I launched KCJ in 2013, we have reached over 325,000 children - and 54% of them are girls. There’s a couple of tricks we’ve picked up on the way that encourage a diverse group of kids to see the potential that tech offers them.

Trick 1: Include all ability levels by focusing on creativity and the process of learning

One of the earliest lessons we learned in the classroom was that no one-size fits all. Trying to force kids along the same path will only cause a significant chunk to drop-off or lose interest.

The kids with the most exposure to technology - often video game players - are the most comfortable with it, which can leave other kids feeling left behind. An activity which encourages creative or novel thinking, is far more likely to generate interest from a wider diversity of children.

After learning through a creative activity, one girl in the fifth-grade in Calgary declared: “I can't believe people think coding is boring! This is SUPER fun!"

By focusing on the process of learning - and exploring different means on the way - children with different backgrounds are more likely to engage.

Trick 2: Focusing on collaboration over competition

Learning a new skill can be hard - and seeing your classmates whizz past you can stop a child from even wanting to try. That’s why we use a blend of teaching, co-operative and solo work to give all children the chance to learn the content, figure out how it works, and see it in action.

By focusing on sharing progress, wins and tips between each other, learners see their hard work validated in a safe space. This encourages them to innovate together.

This approach does well to encourage inclusivity. Girls are encouraged to learn digital skills; boys can witness girls doing so.

Gendered biases that lead young women to lose interest in STEM are estimated to set in around grade 7. The earlier we can engage young people to show them that anyone can code, the better we can do to stave off this decline.

Trick 3: Setting an example of trial by error

There is never a right or wrong way with technology, but that can be a difficult lesson to showcase. By encouraging experimentation in the classroom, kids gain confidence to try new things.

Plus, seeing adults not knowing all the answers, and learning from their mistakes, sets an important example. For young girls, especially, seeing women they respect taking on technology challenges is especially inspiring.

As one teacher reflected, collaborative learning in the classroom had led to: "More engagement and resilience in my students when working on a difficult task. Definitely something that I have been learning alongside my students - which is great for them to see too.”

Learning to learn, and to learn from the process, is a fundamental skill for all kids. It goes beyond existing technology, or the walls of the classroom. It sets young people up to tackle the unknown challenges of tomorrow’s world, no matter what their background is.

Inclusive classrooms will breed diverse innovators and a future built on equity

By creating inclusive environments in the classroom, where all children feel welcomed, and can look up to and emulate a diverse range of role models, we can inspire the next generation of digital citizens. It’s critical that we reach a diverse range of children at an early age, before any societal prejudices or accepted norms can influence them.

With an educational approach that champions creativity, collaboration and experimentation, we can equip all children to face the challenges ahead of us, and empower them to address the U.N.’s Global Goals - with no child left behind.

Inspired to address global inequality, and not sure where to start? Our #kids2030 campaign is going to teach a million children and 50,000 educators about how AI works and the role tech plays to meet the U.N.’s Global Goals for Sustainable Development. If you work for an organisation looking to support this kind of work, we have sponsorship opportunities available!

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