Girls allowed: Making STEM subjects gender free

Aoibheann Mangan

Helen O’Callaghan reports on moves to get more girls coding.

At Iseult Mangan’s Co Mayo home, the weekend was spent digging a trench down the driveway for the arrival of broadband.

“We’re hoping to get it tomorrow. At this stage I’ll believe it when I see it,” says the mum of four.

Lack of broadband hasn’t stopped her only daughter, Aoibheann, 12, from creating four websites, three of which won national awards. Aoibheann was eight when she and a school friend made a farm safety website for children. 

“She made another one at school as part of our Science curriculum and the others she made at Coderdojo,” explains Iseult, who taught her daughter in one-teacher Cloghans Hill NS. 

Aoibheann’s love for coding began in third class after Iseult did the Hour of Code with them – a one-hour intro to computer science, designed to demystify code. Aoibheann was a finalist recently in the 2019 FDM everywoman in Technology Awards — in the One to Watch category, presented to a girl aged 11-16 who’s actively encouraging girls to study STEM subjects at school-level.

The only finalist from Ireland, Aoibheann’s track record spoke for itself. She runs a CoderDojo as part of a global volunteer-led community of free programming workshops for young people aged seven to 17. She runs workshops at MozFest (world’s leading festival for open internet movement) in London, as well as at MegaDojo, a free coding event for children aged seven to 17 in Ireland.

Now in first year at Mount St Michael’s Secondary School, Aoibheann has spoken in the European parliament and at events like Inspirefest about how vital it is to get girls interested in STEM. She participated in Ericsson Technology Day, which encourages Ericsson staff members to sign up to deliver talks and hackathons at schools.

Having noticed fathers mostly at CoderDojo events with children – and how they expect boys to be better at coding than their girls – Aoibheann’s on a mission to open dads’ eyes to their daughters’ tech ability. 

“I noticed it too,” says Iseult. 

Dads would give boys more space at the computer, the boy would have the mouse. Then he’d be amazed to see his daughter as good as the boy.

Aoibheann got involved in the launch of the kids’ code in Microsoft – an initiative to get families engage in STEM subjects together, through coding workshops. Her hope: get dads to see their daughters involved and inspired — and be more open to encouraging them to pursue STEM studies/careers.

Findings

  • Almost six in 10 girls say they don’t know enough about STEM.
  • Nine in 10 teachers say self-belief in girls’ own ability is a major challenge to STEM promotion in schools.
  • The same number of teachers wants to see workshops for girls to enhance confidence.
  • The more STEM-related events a girl attends, the more likely she will choose STEM subjects to Leaving Cert and beyond. (From I Wish annual survey of over 2,200 TY students; visit www.iwish.ie)

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