Scottish non-profit coding charity dressCode, which aims to encourage more girls to engage with computer science, today hosted a hackathon at Holyrood in partnership with the Scottish Parliament.
The event marked the launch of the Education and Skills Committee’s report on STEM learning experience in early education.
The hackathon’s theme focused on the findings of the report, which highlighted the difficulties around addressing the gender gap in STEM, the issues with schools in rural areas not being able to access events, and areas of high levels of deprivation not being involved in STEM initiatives.
Female pupils from John Paul Academy, St.Kentigern’s Academy, Biggar High School, Holy Rood RC High School and Newbattle High School were invited to the Scottish parliament to take part in the event. The hackathon is part of dressCode’s programme, which aims to engage, inspire and raise awareness of opportunities in the world of tech for women.
Ten girls from each school were sorted into smaller teams of five and then paired with a senior mentor to work with them throughout the day offering them support and encouragement. The mentors, who also acted as role models, were members of the award winning Turing Testers team.
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Each team was then tasked with picking a recommendation from the report and creating a digital flyer to help share one of the recommendations with the world. The tasks provided the girls with an opportunity to get hands-on experience of coding and to show them how they can benefit from digital skills.
Beatrice Wishart MSP, who stopped by during the hackathon to chat to the girls, told DIGIT: “It was very inspiring to be in the room with the girls and seeing them try something new for the first time. Coding really is for everybody and we need more events like this to encourage more girls into STEM.”
Hackathon judge and head of business at The Data Lab, Jude McCorry, praised the girls efforts, saying: “We need their input because they are the people who are going to make the real change. But, I also would like businesses to have a read of the report and look at the areas around collaborative working with schools, quality of internet connectivity, and deprivation.
“We want all children in Scotland to have the same opportunities and access to build a sustainable digital economy for years to come.”
dressCode founder and computer science teacher, Toni Scullion, told DIGIT that this event marked a major milestone for the charity in terms of recognition. Speaking of the support the charity has received she said: “Having Jude here today as a judge has been great. Her input has been amazing and she’s been really hands on in helping the girls.
“The Data Lab has been very supportive of our effort, but it would be good to get more industry involved in assisting with initiatives and events like this which are helping to bolster the talent pipeline. Industry needs to be championing the digital talent of tomorrow, its the pupils of today who will be their future workforce and it makes sense that businesses should be more involved in nurturing that talent pipeline.”
Daniel Johnson, Scottish Labour MSP for Edinburgh Southern and deputy convener of the Education and Skills Committee, who also judged the hackathon, said: “It’s hugely important that young people, especially young girls, realise that technology is for them. We want them to be able to see what they can do with technology and that’s what has been fantastic to see that happening today with this event in the parliament.
“But I think that the report makes clear there is a huge amount of work to do to make sure we establish STEM and break down the prejudices, and indeed the stereotypes, that seem to surround science and technology for young women. So, hopefully, we have taken a small step with the report and with this event, but there is still a huge amount of work to do.”