It may come as a surprise to many that the UK is only in its fourth year of celebrating National Coding Week. Coding has an established history in the UK, celebrated ever since the mid-1800s when the world's first computer programmer, Ada Lovelace, changed the way we develop software.
However, our coding heritage still has some way to go in being widely accepted and integrated into school curriculums and early education. According to the UK Commission for Employment & Skills, only 15,000 UK students sat a computing or ICT A-Level this summer - accounting for less than two per cent of the overall exams sat. Nevertheless, coding is just one aspect of the multi-faceted group of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects.
Coding week is a terrific way to raise awareness of the subject, but more needs to be done by Government and businesses to help schools encourage the uptake of ICT and STEM subjects. In particular, it's essential to encourage more girls to consider these careers, as recent research has revealed that almost a third of male teachers think STEM careers are more for boys than girls.
Overthrowing societal expectations and gender stereotypes is critical to get more girls to take these subjects through to further education. This can be done through showcasing diverse role models and raising awareness of the different jobs associated with tech to show how it applies to almost every industry we interact with in the application economy today. From the role coding plays in agriculture and construction, to the way it has changed our music and film experience today, the more a business can attract and retain this talent, the better impact it will have on their bottom line.
Code Club is one example of how we can tackle the short supply of software engineers, which offers a nationwide network of volunteers and educators to run free coding clubs for young people aged 9-13. Starting from an early age is key, without allowing gender stereotypes to determine whether boys or girls will like the subject more than one another.
Having the ability to build and create something through programming is incredibly rewarding, and as more companies undergo their digital transformation, these skills are needed now more than ever. Children today are growing up with powerful computers in the palm of their hands, which are the product of decades of computer programming. With coding apps available like Kodable and Tynker, there's no excuse not to give it a try.
Tackling gender diversity in tech needs to go even further than getting girls interested in technology. The real issue lies in empowering girls in general - not only to be engineers, doctors and technicians, but to be leaders and decision makers. The government needs to play a key role in helping them realise they can do and achieve anything from an early age, and helping to fight preconceptions about women's roles in society. While coding jobs play an essential role in our society today, we also need to demonstrate how there are more ways than coding to get into STEM positions.
We should not limit our celebration of coding and STEM subjects to a week, but take the time to equip the next generation of talent with the skills they will need to thrive in a digital world.