Are you casting a long shadow over children’s futures?

There is no shortage of articles, blogs and observations about what is wrong with technology, the media and women in both. Bottom to top change begins with very young children and the role of early childhood educators.

Supporting children’s emerging identity is at the heart of the Early Years Learning Framework. It is also at the heart of changing what we like least in a divided rather than diverse society.

You will hear commentators talking today about diversity being good for business and technology skills being good for women’s pay packets. Today is Girls in ICT Day (23 April) so diversity, statistics and articles about women in technology and young girls enrolling in technology courses are focusing the mind. For early childhood educators supporting the child to express his or her emerging identity is the challenge on Girls in ICT Day.

Research says it is true that ‘groups with greater diversity solve complex problems better and faster than do homogenous groups’ and that ‘the presence of women in a group is more likely to increase the collective intelligence of the group’ (US National Center for Women in Technology).

It is also true that the statistics on women in the highest-paying and most influential technology roles are not encouraging and haven’t changed much in recent years. In 2013 an Australian Computer Society survey found the technical and professional component of the ICT workforce was about 18% female. Last year Twitter and Google reported that women represent about 30% of their workforces. But the figure is much lower when administrative and non-technical roles are excluded. (Facebook, Pinterest and LinkedIn are among technology companies reporting similar disparities.)PoliceDressup_85511-200x300

In the past twelve months there has been no shortage of articles, blogs and observations about what is wrong with the way things are with technology and the media. Women and the pay gap, women and tech careers (or lack of them), women and children portrayed in the media, media sexualisation of children, trolls and female gamers, trolls and female pundits, as well as the run-of-the-mill stereotyped content on so many of our screens.

Change will come when the people who are building the tools and developing the technology reflect the people who use it.

How they get to build it is the dilemma for early educators. Where do educators and educational leaders begin when trying ‘to be the change you want to see in the world’ in relation to technology? Asking who they can influence and how they can offer options, open possibilities, influence behaviours and reflect on their own, are good places to start.

Early childhood is a critical time when attitudes to gender, sexuality and future career are forming, before children reach school. Educators and carers can:

  • Promote positive and lasting attitudes about equality and diversity amongst children
  • Build awareness among other early childhood practitioners about stereotyping and inequality
  • Support the integration of anti-bias curriculum principles into early childhood programming

For more on anti-bias education strategies see Derman-Sparks and Olsen Edwards’ handbook (2012).

Are we asking ourselves to have the same curiosity, experimentation and openness as we ask of children? In a small but telling moment at the gym the other day, a woman declined to be shown how some new equipment worked. It looked complex. Maybe intimidating. Thank you, she would rather stick to the machines she already knew. Would a child be left to the same equipment, games and interactions day after day, week after week?

A snapshot of strategies by two Melbourne researchers looked at government, corporate and bottom-up approaches to encourage girls into technology. Iwona Miliszewska and Aidan Moore (2011)found that how ‘the problem’ is seen, affects the solutions created. (The same idea captured in the saying that for the person who has a hammer, every problem is a nail.) The authors suggested that ‘small-scale, bottom-up initiatives’ can be successful. They suggest strategies that ‘connect students more deeply with their communities’ and (Digichild’s favourite) that ‘make technology real-world relevant.’

Early childhood educators and carers are perfectly placed for small scale, real world relevance and bottom-up strategies. Some questions are:

  • Do we need to rethink what is said and modelled around teams and early career educators?
  • What are the messages about girls and to girls on their future choices?
  • At after school care what activities are available and how are they offered to make it comfortable for all children to participate?
  • Are we guiding particular children consciously or sub-consciously away from interactive media play?
  • For younger ages are provocations offered that allow children to explore and gain confidence using technology?
  • Does the dress up corner and creative play encourage games where girls and boys can be film makers, media entrepreneurs, digital designers, software programmers?
  • When was the last time the preschoolers took apart an old key board and computer, made a lego smart phone or tinkered with a piece of equipment to repurpose it?

Recently one blogger analysed how US President Barack Obama supports girls in technology when he met with a group of very young girl inventors. Although the blogger (or the video captioner) seemed to miss the point—labelling the girls ‘cute’— the US President doesn’t. Watch the video to see the exchange and how the girls connect their purpose and strategies with his activities.

Let’s make sure adults don’t let their idea of ‘the romance of childhood’ cloud children’s real world experience. Otherwise we may be unwittingly creating environments that make it harder for girls to imagine their role in a technology-lead future.

Additional Sources:

The Conversation: www.theconversation.com

Miliszewska, Iwona and Moore, Aidan (2011) Attracting Girls to ICT studies and careers: A snapshot of Strategies. Redress: Association of Women Educators, 20 (3). pp. 10-14. ISSN 1039-382X

Australian Computer Society Inc., The Australian  ICT Statistical Compendium 2013, retrieved from  https://acs.org.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0004/28570/Australian-ICT-Statistical-Compendium-2013.pdf

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Clare McHugh

Clare McHugh is Early Childhood Australia's (ECA) Strategic Communications Executive, working on projects that support ECA’s reputation as a trusted voice for young children, their families, educators and carers. Clare has been part of ECA's Learning Hub Team, managed ECA's Start Early. Respectful relationships for life project and ECA digital initiatives including the federally funded Digital Business Kit and Live Wires. Clare has been thinking and writing about children, family and social policy for a number of years, including for the Commonwealth Child Care Advisory Council and the Australian government.

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