Role modelling breaks down tech gender barriers

Ricky Sinclair is passionate about encouraging female students to continue studying STEM subjects into senior secondary schooling and beyond.

In fact, the Head of ICT Curriculum and Innovation at Good Shepherd Lutheran College on Queensland's Sunshine Coast regularly introduces his students to inspirational female role models currently working in IT, with the aim of breaking down gender barriers.

Sinclair tells Teacher that since he began this initiative, he has noticed a difference with more girls starting to join his IT electives. ‘In my Year 11 class I have three girls and 18 boys, in my Year 12 class I have six girls and 17 boys, but in Year 9 half of the cohort have selected IT as an elective and around half of that cohort are female.

‘Out of the 120 [Year 9] cohort, 60 of them selected IT and 30 of them are girls. I think that's due to the curriculum that we've taught with them as they were coming up, it just interested them and now they have that spark.'

Imagination and creativity

Ensuring the curriculum is highly project-based so that girls can truly express their creativity is key, according to Sinclair. He explains the program he's designed allows students to use their imaginations to create products that can be used in the real world.

‘For example, we've been 3D modelling and 3D printing with our Prep students … they'll be able to have good experiences early with IT and that will follow through and create that lifelong passion and that lifelong learning. We've been exploring a lot of technologies such as wearable technology … we do VR [Virtual Reality] design and development, app design – it's quite empowering for girls to take an idea and to make it into a real world project that enables them to share that project with their family and friends.

‘I've always found that the best way to encourage student interest, not only for girls but for all students, is to give them success in the subject as early as possible,' he adds.

Busting gender myths

Late last year, the Office of the Chief Scientist published a paper debunking myths about women in STEM-related fields.

The publication challenged four persistent myths facing women in STEM, including the idea that ‘girls are bad at maths' and ‘most women are disinterested in careers in engineering, physics and ICT'. It also highlighted the need for ongoing action to encourage and support women to pursue careers in these areas.

Australia's Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel said the paper was aimed at equipping people with the facts about gender inequality in STEM. ‘Imagine what we could achieve if women and men felt equally welcomed and appreciated in STEM professions,” he said.

Female role models

Sinclair says introducing students to prolific women working in IT, both locally and overseas, has also made a significant difference to student motivation.

‘There's an enterprise run by CISCO, it's called Women Rock IT, and what we do is we join live TV broadcasts and hear from women who have challenged the stereotype and turned their passion for technology into a rewarding and successful career.'

At the time of our interview, Sinclair was preparing his students for a session with Juliette Gimenez, the co-founder and CEO of Goxip. They planned to discuss the challenges she faced starting off her career and the stereotypes she's confronted throughout her career.

‘The speakers are in different occupations and businesses and through this the girls have been able to learn that IT is a world of possibilities and a technology career can be as varied and as exciting and glamourous as they want it to be,' Sinclair says.

In December, Sinclair was named one of 18 Advance Queensland digital champions in recognition of his contribution to improving digital inclusion in his school and across the state.

‘I'm just very excited to be part of such an interesting and innovative group of Australians who work in IT and who work beyond the field of education,' he reflects. ‘It's an amazing opportunity for me as an educator because I'm now able to network and develop my own learning because I can interact with enterprise and business and a range of different areas.'

In what ways do you encourage female students to continue with STEM studies into senior high school and beyond? Do you think this is important?

Ricky Sinclair says the best way to encourage student interest in a subject is to allow them to experience success as early as possible. How do you tailor your lessons to ensure all students experience some sort of success?