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Making computing education more equitable

Shukri Mohamed

PhD student, School of Education, Communication & Society, King's College London

27 April 2023

As we mark International Girls in ICT Day on 27 April, Shukri Mohamed, PhD student in the School of Education, Communication & Society at King’s College London, discusses the potential of ‘making’ activities to make computing education more appealing to girls and encourage them to develop STEM skills.

In our world that keeps getting more technological, computational thinking has become a fundamental skill with equal importance to reading, writing and maths (Wing, 2009). Yet computer science only formally entered the National Curriculum in England in 2013, and young people do not have equal opportunities to develop their computational thinking skills.

The stereotype that boys prefer and are better at STEM subjects than girls is well-known, well-documented, and unfortunately, still very prevalent among children. Early on, these stereotypes influence girls’ lack of interest in computer science, preventing them from engaging effectively in computing activities (Seneviratne, 2017).

ScratchJr interface. Credit: Tufts University, Scratch Foundation, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons.

There is an additional obstacle: computing classes in primary school favour coding activities that involve creating games, such as Scratch and ScratchJr – and girls often find these boring and unappealing (Shortt and O’Neill, 2009). As a result, they dislike the computer culture they are exposed to in schools, which affects their opportunities to develop these essential computational skills.

As a primary school educator, I would like to challenge these stereotypes and introduce activities that girls want to engage with. I recall, when computing was introduced into the National Curriculum, the limited resources available to teach this new subject – and the ensuing overreliance of some teachers on lessons that teach computing through gamification. Although creating games can be exciting, when this becomes the norm or the only method in which computing is taught, it is easy to understand why girls become disengaged.

It is interesting to compare this with how much more engaged girls are in subjects such as Art and Design Technology (DT), which allow students more creativity and individual expression. Because computing has strict learning objectives, teachers teach a skill and students are asked to apply that skill in a specific way. However, in subjects such as Art and DT, where students create an artifact, they learn skills and apply them in different ways as they are given the freedom to explore and think differently.

This very type of situated learning experience is what led the constructionist theorist Papert (1980) to develop Logo, a well-known educational programming language. He noticed children making soap sculptures in their art class and how, in doing so, they were able to construct their own learning. While carving their soap sculptures, the children were able to think, dream, gaze, generate new ideas, try, fail, persist, and talk about their experiences – the exact opposite of what happened during a maths lesson.

DT class with objects
DT classroom. Credit: Jordanhill School D&T Dept, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons.

Papert then developed the concept of “soap-sculpture maths” to bring creativity, discovery, and self-expression into the LEGO Logo classroom. In doing so, he found that children were learning to manipulate computational material, such as making a snake out of LEGO Logo (Papert and Harel, 1991). While the learning environments were different – making soap sculptures with a knife or shaping the behaviour of the snake using maths and creating its structure using physics – the learning processes were similar.

Just as Papert identified the learning differences in maths and art, I found myself comparing girls’ lack of engagement in computing lessons and the same girls taking ownership of their learning in more creative subjects such as Art and DT. Drawing on these parallels and better understanding how children learn depending on the situation and subject, we can make the most of situated learning in the computing classroom by using ‘making’ practices that involve creative free expression through the creation of an artifact.

While ‘making’ activities and technologies have been widely used in out-of-school settings, such as in maker spaces, museums, libraries, and afterschool projects, there is limited research on how these activities can be used to improve STEM education in the primary school setting. My PhD research aims to bridge this knowledge gap and improve the STEM engagement of girls through the use of making activities.

As I explore how ‘making’ activities can be a useful tool to engage girls in STEM and develop their computational thinking in the primary school setting, I aim to use making activities involving affordable digital tools and physical computing as these offer new opportunities for learning (Martin, 2015) and have the potential to improve STEM education for underrepresented groups, including girls (Calabrese Barton, Tan and Greenberg, 2017, and Calabrese Barton and Tan, 2018). To address the gender gap in STEM, my research will also explore whether particular making practices or strategies or approaches foster girls’ participation in or development of computational thinking skills, and whether other factors (above and beyond the design of making activities) also play a role.

I hope to find new and effective teaching methods that inspire girls to learn computational skills – therefore contributing to closing the gender gap in STEM.– Shukri Mohamed, PhD student, School of Education, Communication & Society, King's College London

Initiatives such as the International Girl in ICT Day remind us of the importance of engaging girls in STEM, and particularly in computing and ICT. It is important that we challenge gender stereotypes and devise activities of interest to girls, to make a positive change on the computing sector.

Below are a range of video resources which can be used this International Girl in ICT Day to spark discussion and inspire girls to develop their skills in ICT.

Video resources to challenge the gender stereotypes in ICT:

Coding platforms to develop ICT skills:

Code first: Girls:



The importance of coding:


Calabrese Barton, A. and Tan, E. (2018). ‘A Longitudinal Study of Equity-Oriented STEM-Rich Making Among Youth From Historically Marginalized Communities’, American Educational Research Journal, 55(4), pp. 761–800.

Calabrese Barton, A., Tan, E. and Greenberg, D. (2017). ‘The makerspace movement: sites of possibilities for equitable opportunities to engage underrepresented youth in STEM’, Teachers College Record, 119(060308), pp. 1–44.

Martin, L. (2015). ‘The promise of the maker movement for education’, Journal of Pre-College Engineering Education Research, 5(1), pp. 30–39.

Papert, S. (1980). “Mindstorms” Children. Computers and Powerful ideas.

Papert, S. and Harel, I. (1991). Situating constructionism. Constructionism, 36(2), pp.1-11.

Seneviratne, O. (2017). ‘Making Computer Science Attractive to High School Girls with Computational Thinking Approaches: A Case Study’, in Emerging Research, Practice, and Policy on Computational Thinking, pp. 21–32.

Shortt, D. and O’Neill, K. (2009). ICT and Women. Information Technology Association of Canada, p.14.

Wing, J. (2009). Computational thinking. Journal of computing sciences in colleges, 24(6), pp.6-7.

In this story

Shukri Mohamed

Shukri Mohamed

PhD Candidate

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