According to the EU survey of women active in the ICT sector, out of 1.000 women with a bachelor degree only 29 carry a degree in ICT. This disparity continues at the professional level. According to the same report, only 30% of the approximately 7m individuals working in ICT in Europe are women; they are underrepresented at all levels of the sector, especially in decision making processes. According to the National Center for Education Statistics in the US, women represent just 18% of university graduates in computer science. However, in 1985 37% of computer science majors in the US were female. This demonstrates a decline I women participation in computer science. Professionally, 80% of top-level employees in Silicon Valley are male and only 10% of the technical positions at the same companies are occupied by females.
The reasons that lead women to avoid ICT are not related to competencies and skills. While the PISA report demonstrates that at age 15 girls perform as well as boys in related STEM subjects, girls may feel that ICT is a difficult subject. Girls choose to not follow STEM principles, which lead to engineering and ICT careers, as early as in lower high school under stereotypical perceptions that these careers are not suitable for them. Social perceptions further miss the links between ICT and the societal well-being; this further discourages girls, who wish to feel that their work is socially beneficial, from following ICT careers.
The Coding4Girls project (http://coding4girls.eu) introduces a learning intervention that aims to engage girls aged 10 – 15 in programming with the objective of encouraging a broader participation of girls in ICT. The project is implemented by the Creative Technologies Learning Lab (http://ctll.e-ce.uth.gr) of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering of the University of Thessaly. A game-based learning environment has been developed that deploys design thinking principles for fostering innovation and engagement. Game-based learning principles encourage users to explore and experiment hands-on with programming concepts in a virtual world. By exploring the virtual environment users discover and engage with mini games that demonstrate coding elements such as loops, conditionals, variables, statements, sound, movement, parallelism, operators, and events. Once they understand the coding principles, users are challenged to deploy them in coding exercises. For this step the platform is integrated with Snap!. The platform goes a step beyond exploration and encourages group collaboration towards solving jointly owned activities. Deploying the design thinking principles of empathy, ideation, prototyping, and evaluation the platform encourages users to brainstorm through a common digital canvas that they can simultaneously edit to post ideas towards a solution and to review the ideas of others in a process that encourages innovative thinking.
The platform further offers services for educators through which they can structure coding activities in steps through an easy to use web-based interface. The educator activities are transparently integrated into the student virtual learning environment, introducing an easy to use interface for educators to interact with the student virtual environment.
The proposed learning intervention is currently being evaluated with students in Greece, Slovenia, Croatia, Italy, Portugal, Turkey, and Bulgaria with very positive feedback by both educators and students. The project is funded by the Erasmus+ Program of the EU and runs from 2018 to 2020.