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UL backing new project offering pathway for young women to computer science career

Thu, 29 Apr 2021

University of Limerick is supporting a new outreach engagement project that aims to address the gender imbalance in the take-up of computer science at higher level.

With women accounting for just one in five computer science graduates in Ireland, CodePlus, a Computer Science (CS) outreach engagement project is to be rolled out across the country to target 10,000 girls at secondary school to consider taking the subject at third level.

The project, pioneered by Trinity College Dublin, is to be rolled out by Lero, the Science Foundation Ireland Research Centre for Software in partnership with Trinity, NUI Galway and University of Limerick over the next 24 months.

The programme is funded under the SFI Discover Programme and will encourage, facilitate and provide opportunities to teenage female students to engage with Computer Science.

According to Clare McInerney, Education and Public Engagement Manager with Lero, research into the CodePlus initiative shows it positively impacts female secondary school students.

“The CodePlus programme is a powerful, non-formal outreach project encouraging adolescent girls to explore careers in Computer Science,” she said. 

Professor Brendan Tangney, from the team at Trinity College Dublin who developed the CodePlus programme, said they found young women who participate in the 20-hour course were more likely to select a Computer Science course at third-level.

“It is wonderful to see these young women grow as the course progresses. Selection of a CS course on their CAO application became a real option for them, but more importantly, they felt they would be well able for a CS course,” added Professor Tangney.

Lero’s Dr Cornelia Connolly of NUI Galway’s School of Education said the goal of CodePlus is to redress the imbalance in CS graduates coming out of Irish third-level colleges.

“When you look at the percentages of all undergraduate degrees in Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) awarded to females over the last seven years it is stuck at just 18%, and a lowly 20% for CS courses.

We need teachers and students to sign up for CodePlus. Young women are missing out on great careers in Computer Science and Computer Sceince needs more women designing for and with women; developing and leading the way,” Dr Connolly continued.

Ms McInerney of Lero and UL cited the United Nations, Action Plan to Close Digital Gender Gap as one of the foundations driving the expansion of the CodePlus programme in Ireland:

“Women’s equal and meaningful participation in the digital society is seen as both integral to the realisation of women’s rights in the 21st century, as well as the realisation of a just, inclusive, and rights-based information society and to achieve global objectives around gender equality and women’s empowerment by 2030.”

Launching the programme, the CodePlus team ran an online panel event for TY, 5th and 6th-year secondary school girls. A panel of female software industry professionals spoke about their individual career experiences to inspire and enthuse students about Computer Science.

Teachers, pupils and schools who want to participate in the CodePlus initiative should contact codeplus@bridge21.ie.