Girls only education: a massive step backwards

Earlier this year, a tweet bought this article to my attention – and in turn, the issue of girls-only coding schools.

I read the article and several others like it and became more uncomfortable with the idea the more I read. I think it’s worth mentioning at this point that I am a female web developer who also lectures adults in website creation at a local college. I can see the industry from all perspectives – as a student (my degree is in Computer Science), as an employee (for the past 4 years) and as a teacher – and I can honestly say I think that these schools or courses are an inherently bad idea.

I am aware that coding is a bit of a boys club. I was the only female student in my university year doing computer science (although many of my female friends were pursuing other scientific disciplines), and have been the only female developer at every job I have worked since graduating. I can see that the industry is extremely male dominated – but this hasn’t made me want to quit.

The view these articles and organisations seem to have in common is that women do not attempt to pursue a career in code because the industry’s male-dominance makes them uncomfortable, and that women simply do not feel able to compete with men in an educational space  – in fact, the slogan for one of the organisations is ‘don’t be shy, develop it’. The inference that women are too insipid to come forward and ask questions, get involved and challenge technological ideas when men are involved is frankly ridiculous, and, coupled with the overly-pink aesthetics of these organisations’ websites, only proves to reinforce stereotypes we are fighting so hard to overturn. One of these sites goes even further to segregate by gender *and* race – don’t even get me started on this. Once you start down this road, it’s very difficult to go back.

I understand that perhaps, women and men are socialised differently, and this may affect the ways in which we problem solve, and I also understand that coding is very much about problem solving, but I do not accept that these different ways of thinking must be segregated in order to be successful. In fact, having worked closely with male developers has been a massive help because we challenge each other to think differently and to see solutions we may not have in the first place, and that’s what learning should be about.

The thing that worries me most is that the existence of these organisations will undo all the years of working towards educational equality – not only by convincing girls that they need to learn in a separate space, but by convincing men that they do. There is already a large amount of animosity towards women in industries very closely linked to coding, and I can only see this segregation fuelling the fire behind these views of female inferiority.

Education should be about providing a platform and an environment where everyone feels comfortable enough to learn – if a group does not feel that this is the case, we should be looking at the existing courses and their environments, and working towards making these more accessible for everyone, not removing that group completely. It is a precursor to employment, which should not only equip you with the skills required for your chosen career, but also prepare you for the environment you will be working within.

Perhaps we should look to early socialisation instead, and tackle any problems at their root – if women are feeling as if they are unable to make a contribution to a specific industry, we need to look at our cultural values before it gets to this point. I was lucky enough to be socialised to believe that I could do anything just as well as anybody else, and become anything that I wanted to be as long as I applied myself. I have done just that, and I have done it with the help of my educational peers – male and female.

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