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Boys outnumber girls 6 to 1 in UK compsci classes

Despite girls outperforming boys when they choose the subject

New research by the British Computer Society (BCS) has found girls are outnumbered six to one by boys in computer science classes across the UK.

However, once young women choose computing, on average they outperform their male counterparts, according to the study.

BCS's report titled "Landscape Review: Computing Qualifications in the UK" draws on publicly available data covering the five-year period from 2016/17 to 2020/21. It covers England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales as the home nations sought to shift their computing education curricula.

In all UK nations, computer science subjects appear to be the least popular among sciences. The continuing problem with the male-female balance is reflected in all geographies. This can be in excess of 10:1 in some cases, but more regularly between five and six to one.

Getting qualified teachers remains a problem, despite the success of the National Centre for Computing Education, a Department for Education-funded institution addressing this need in England, which is supporting more than 30,000 teachers.

Participation in computer science in Scotland has been falling steadily over recent years but increased in 2021, possibly down to the growing popularity of new digitally focused areas.

Dame Muffy Calder, chair of BCS's School Curriculum and Assessment Committee, said: "Computing education and skills need to be highly valued and promoted by leaders in government, education and industry too, as a route to shape the future."

The Glasgow University professor of computer science said all UK nations had a longstanding problem with the male-female balance in both academic and vocational computing.

"While male:female ratios of 2:1 were not untypical of the older Information and Communications Technology (ICT) curricula, the move to a more computing-focused approach has seen the imbalance grow: most regularly to around the 5-6:1 level.

"This matters because teams that develop, say, the use of AI in medicine, or algorithms that affect our financial lives or employment chances need to be diverse to ensure outcomes are fair and relevant to everyone in society.

"There may be lessons to be learned from some of the vocational qualifications in computing where a small number of topics show a better gender balance or from the introduction of 'broader church' academic Digital Technology qualifications in Wales and Northern Ireland."

BCS recommends the four UK nations should establish a task force to "examine and report on access and participation in Computer Science qualifications of learners across key demographics, with the aim of learning from what works and disseminating best practice."

In 2021, figures from UK university admissions service UCAS show computer science has seen a steady rise in popularity over the last decade.

The final release of university and college-level application and acceptance figures for the 2020 cycle demonstrate the growing interest in the subject. Acceptance on courses rose by almost a half from 20,420 in 2011 to 30,090 in 2020. ®

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