Girls Learning Code Workshops: Is Gender-Segregated Tech Learning Necessary?

One of my contacts at Code For Kids and Ladies Learning Code sent me a note about an upcoming workshop on August 24th, called Girls Learning Code.

In similar fashion to Code For Kids, the workshop aims to teach kids basic coding skills, design thinking and building things with computers. There are two key differences with Girls Learning Code:
  1. The workshops are specifically targeted for girls, and
  2. The sessions focus on building confidence and self-expression.
I'm torn.

I love promoting childhood tech education and I think that these types of opportunities provide kids with a behind-the-scenes look into the tech they use every day.
I believe that boys are being left behind in schools because the format caters more to stucture and order than flexibility and openness.
I believe that any time we promote gender segregation, for example by targeting toys or activities to one gender or another rather than letting kids choose for themselves, we promote the idea that boys and girls are not equal.

But then I read the reasoning for the girls-only focus on the Girls Learning Code Eventbrite and it raised an interesting point:
When developing plans and curriculum for the camp, we keep in mind a recurrent theme in research on gender and technology: girls approach the computer as a “tool” useful primarily for what it can do; boys more often view the computer as a “toy” or an extension of the self.
If that's true, then yes framing concepts in a different way might be necessary to really reach girls. But then I do wonder if there are boys who also think this way, and some girls who think of computers as toys, and if we wouldn't serve them better by offering both types of explanations in a joint session to cover all the bases.

The more we can encourage boys and girls to work on technology side-by-side, the more "normal" it will be; that is, kids won't think anything of it. But if we keep treating girls as if they need special exceptions or exclusions, will they truly consider themselves equal to boys? And what better way to convince boys and girls that they are equally capable than by letting them working alongside one another?

Rather than separating the genders (which let's face it, would cause an uproar if it was reversed: can you imagine the backlash that would arise if there was a Boys Learning Code?), maybe the teams from Code for Kids and Girls Learning Code could work together to develop a gender-neutral curriculum that is inclusive and addresses all learning types equally.

Until that happens, Girls Learning Code might be of interest if you have a girl who wants to learning programming. The Girls Learning Code full-day workshop runs at Shopify on August 24th. Code For Kids will back in September.

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