Please turn down the pink dial. Part two: If not pink, then what?


It’s been few days  since part one of this post and through discussions on Twitter and other channels I felt like I couldn’t just leave it there.  There was a common ‘yes’ to my questioning of how ‘pink-ification’ and gender stereotyping is being used in the teaching and learning of coding, while others responded with the ‘their turning up so its working’ mantra.   But gender isn’t binary – so what about all the other kids that didn’t turn up? Or what about the kids that did that are now turned off?

It made me think of a particular healthy eating program that happened in schools when I was 8 or so.  I remember proudly making it on the front page of the local newspaper in a photo of the whole school apples in hand about to take a bite. Yes, this event got us to eat an apple so the specific outcome of the event was achieved however I wonder the impact if any that this event actually had on the lunch boxes a week later, actually even the next day?  The outcome was achieved but had a level of cognitive engagement occurred challenging us (students) to some higher level thinking about healthy eating.  I’m not sure.

can we please stop underestimating the role of teaching amidst the pink sparkle and robotic spectacle

So when I see initiative launched to get girls, and kids in general, into coding my first instinct is (and will continue to be) that is awesome. An event, a learning experience, that may have otherwise not happened.  I am not negating the need to give kids exposure to new things however simultaneously I wonder the depth and the longevity that merely exposing someone to something has without the structure of personal meaning or context applied. Without it are we merely creating a spectacle, a mini disneyland of ‘that was a fun day out’?

So if not pink and if not spectacle then what?

Ok lets start by not devaluing our kids.  Step by step procedural games or super structured programming experiences that Baudrillard would have smiled at are not giving anyone the opportunity to think deeply, or gain understanding by having ownership in the creation of something personal.  They limit the chance to iterate, refine, edit and modify their creation only change variables of someone else’s idea.  So they may be ‘doing’ the thing, coding something, but they are not part of the process.  This is a key part of building agentic learning where kids are agents of their own learning.  Finding ways to scratch their curiosity itches.  Kids are naturally curious, we all are.  Lets work with that and not reduce the value of the people in the room. There is space for quick challenges and pop up activities but what happens when that kid goes home, do they know their next steps or how they can apply what they have been so excited about learning that morning.

I see these initiatives (and the big business bankrolling them!)  and the media highlights the strong tag line of giving access to all and the equality these events bring. But I wonder about the equity of it all for the students?  If it really is about access to all then how inclusive are these online and offline environments?

I understand that it comes from a place of wanting to do the best by the kids and I see value in creating emotive events that capture kids interest whether in a traditional classroom, online or an event but can we please stop underestimating the role of teaching amidst the pink sparkle and robotic spectacle.

Each participant is different and creating equity starts with knowing the learner and then using that knowledge to know when to push or pull back during a learning experience – all of which goes a long way to supporting the creation of a safe-to-fail space.This builds a positive learning culture which, if you ask any classroom teacher will tell you, is key AND this all takes time. For both the learner and the teacher as it encapsulates everyone and everything around the learner prior to that given point in time. So please think about these things when you’re getting excited about the maze all the kids will program their bots to run, or creating an online simulation where a certain level of reading comprehension is required and take time to think just as hard (if not harder) about how you will craft an inclusive equitable environment to go with it.

And this why we need to turn down the pink dial and take some time to think about these learning experiences.  That’s why I’m against the gimmicky pinkification of learning to code because how can thickly applying a coat of pink gloss ever compare to a personally engaging learning experience where you’re safe to tinker, play and fail and given the time and support to do so.