Please turn down the pink dial and lets learn to code


I feel like current dialogue online has shifted from ‘We need to teach kids to code’ to ‘We need to get girls into coding’ and as this heats up I find myself gritting my teeth more and more.  I want to scream can we change the angle and look at HOW we are teaching, not just what.

I’m not arguing the fact that women are underrepresented in Digital Tech fields and this is well documented, stuff blogged about and discussed but what I want to point out is that we need to look at how we are engaging all young people in this field.

Over the past two years I have found myself in an interesting position to see how this plays out in the Education sector and in particular my realm of Technology and Design.  When I stepped into my first classroom and looked to shape projects I was very aware of the need to be gender neutral and not just from pink-ification.

During my time as a student teacher moving between Art and Technology blocks I found that a very traditional gender stereotype had a firm grip of Materials Technology.  It was a boys club in the senior years as I found myself the only female in the room (be that student or teacher).  Gender was clearly demarcated by the types of projects and products they were making which was further enhanced as I stepped up the year levels only changing at Year 13 where  students could shape their own projects.  Too little too late.

I was acutely aware that if I had been a student I probably wouldn’t have chosen this subject either.  The projects and things they were making would not have interested me – a saw horse? A skate board? No thanks.  And then I would look at the Digital Tech projects and think no thanks to those either.

Take this to the other side now.  As the upswing in the ‘need to get girls coding’ I see the polar opposite. Pink, princesses and over the top feminine and I wonder the impact of all this pink-ification layered thickly over coding?

I started this post earlier today and then came across this on Mashable.  In particular this section resonated with me:

But pinkifying tech isn’t just limited to color-coding. It’s a problem deeper than that — one that supports the idea of coding as inherently uninteresting to girls, requiring extra girly elements to “sell it.”

We have to examine our own assumptions that “girls won’t be into this” or “boys wont be into that”

I read this and thought – yes and thank you. We need to give all students the opportunity to learn all areas and we have to examine our own assumptions that’ girls won’t be into this’ or ‘boys wont be into that’.

Not all girls will want to learn to code in the same way not all boys will want to build a rocket. And we need to be saying – that’s ok.  The current push to get all girls into coding might actually be doing more harm than good if it’s not done in a way that encourages children to try but in a way that keeps them interested to take things further.

Turning up the pink dial might interest a certain percentage of the population but this type of strategy is short sighted as setting the dial to magenta can alienate some girls to take part.   We need to create opportunities for kids where they want to learn or need to learn something to scratch a curiosity itch they have.  As a teacher I have a responsibility to all students in my classroom, in spite of gender, to create these types of opportunities for exploration. But access to coding doesn’t make coding easier in the same way that watching TV doesn’t help your movie producing or acting skills – it takes time and practise.  Both things you wont do if you are not really that into it to begin with.

I get frustrated at the pink-ification the learn to code movement has latched on to as it is often saturated at the entry point for girls then sharply disappears.  They get into these ‘made for girls’ programs and are super structured, supported step by step with pop ups hinting what you might have done wrong as you work your way through the hoops but once they get to the end then what? Where to next? Oh I’m done.

If we truly want to get girls into coding can we turn down the pink dial and think about how to create projects and prompts that make girls want to figure out their next steps, want to learn how to fix glitches and create cool things with technology for the long term.