I’ve got super excited about something this evening, and I want to shout about it.
Once upon a time, in 2011, I decided I really wanted to make Computing a big thing in the school I was teaching at. That year, we entered some of our pupils in a national coding competition and I was delighted that two of our Year 9 girls, Ellie & Georgina won the national title. When I broke news of the win to these two girls, I went on to suggest to them that we could build on their competition success and run an after-school club for them to further develop their programming talents.
Well… they couldn’t run away from me fast enough. They replied:
We’re girls… we’re not really like that at all.
Can we just have our prizes and go now?”
Disappointment It deeply upset me that these two 13 year old girls who had huge potential to succeed in Computing, were being held back by what I perceived to be Society’s expectations of them and the pursuits that 13 year old girls should really be interested in. They clearly felt threatened by the idea that others might see them as geeks and the peer pressure would be too great.
Long story short What happened over the next four years is quite a long story but basically, after giving Ellie & Georgina their prizes, I resolved to try to do what I could to make it seem as normal and acceptable as possible for a 13 year old girl to indulge in really geeky computing activities, like programming a Raspberry Pi computer for example. In my quest, I had the pleasure of meeting some fantastic female role models like Amy Mather, Carrie Anne Philbin, Dr Sue Black, Anne-Marie Imafidon, Laura Dixon and Sam Bail. I have to admit I did had some crazy, stupid ideas to begin with, but thankfully, advice from these friends saved me from making a complete fool of myself.
Back to the present Last night it was our monthly Raspberry Jam event here in Preston. I’m usually the first to arrive, but this time a cheery young girl called Cerys and her dad were already there waiting for me to open the building. Dad first explained to me that they had travelled up from Staffordshire, (such was Cerys’ enthusiasm for the Raspberry Pi) and then he quickly apologised to me for not really knowing what a Raspberry Pi is. I welcomed them in, and in true ‘Alan’ tradition I gave them a list of jobs to do to help set the venue up while the other guests arrived.
Later on in the evening, Cerys asked me if she could show me her project and I recorded this short video:
Those of you who are familiar with the capabilities of the Raspberry Pi might comment that Cerys project is not particularly ground breaking, and you may well be right.
However, you are perhaps missing something rather remarkable.
Yes, remarkable The remarkable thing for me is that this 13 year old girl took it upon herself to buy a Raspberry Pi, independently taught herself how to build a series of projects without being pressured into it and then persuaded her dad to drive the 80 miles to Preston so she could show her project to others.
I’d dearly love to tell you that the other 60 or so attendees in the room were blown away by Cerys’ project and her enthusiasm for the Raspberry Pi, but they didn’t get nearly half as excited as I did.
Perhaps what is most remarkable is that to the others guests there at our Raspberry Jam event, it just seemed so perfectly normal and acceptable that a 13 year old might want to spend her summer holidays working on such a project.
For me however, this is more than a feint glimmer of hope that the outmoded gender stereotypes that were once prevalent throughout our society are finally on the way out. It also proves beyond any doubt the significant impact that Raspberry Pi is having on people’s perceptions of Computer Science, and furthermore it’s actually quite cool to create things with code no matter what your age, gender or background.
If these few words I’ve written don’t make any sense, perhaps my ‘post-script’ at the end of Amy Mather’s 2013 Raspberry Jamboree talk might explain this better: