Girls Code it Better (Italy)
Girls Code it Better (https://girlscodeitbetter.it) is an “Officina Futuro Fondazione MAW” project that offers cost-free workshops in the area of technology and making to girls aged between 11 to 18 years. The aim of the foundation is to foster a critical reflection about established stereotypes that are strongly represented in the Italian society – stereotypes that hinder girls to get involved in technically oriented studies, like maths, engineering, informatics, chemistry, and that also contribute to the fact that only 50% of Italian women enter the job market overall.
Girls are invited to join the “Girls code it better”-clubs, which are afternoon workshops taking place in their schools. In total, 45 hours of such clubs are organised every year, following a problem-centred learning approach: the participating girls are confronted with a problem related to their country, school, environment, well-being, or any other topical issue, such as Covid-19 etc. Then they search for solutions to this problem through technology, e.g. by coding, robotics, video-making, gaming, web design and web development. They are supported in the development of their solution by a coaching-team: one coach is a teacher, the other one a maker. The required technology is provided by the foundation, if it is not available in school (e.g. 3d printers) and also a budget to buy material and instruments is attributed to every club. Girls Code it Better is presented in schools at the beginning of the school year and girls can apply to participate in the clubs. The selection of girls, who can participate, is done randomly. This is due to the fact that the whole initiative is linked to a scientific study that tries to understand the impact of the specific interventions on the young female participants.
Gender and other inequalities
The Girls Code it Better-clubs are offered to girls only, to specifically address the problem of Italian girls shying away from technically-oriented education and profession. The clubs are an entry-point for girls to get involved with technology and collect positive hands-on experiences, something that boys are drawn to more automatically due to the existing stereotypes in Italy.
Girls from all social backgrounds are involved in clubs and from 2021 on the foundation aims to specifically work in more disadvantaged areas of Italy to specifically involve “fragile girls”, who’s fragility is considered in their personal learning and development.
Girls Code It Better is not a coding lab, it is a digital creation club in which programming is just one of the areas touched. Girls Code It Better is above all a path in which we develop and train skills such as: learning how to learn, problem solving, working in a team, critical thinking, and effective communication.
Their daily work is based on:
- Girls at the center of the learning process
- Real problems and authentic tasks
- Small group work
- Collaborative planning
- Shared reflection
- Use of tools as creative mediums and not goals
While the girls work with technologies to solve important problems of todays’ society they start to reflect upon prevailing “old-fashioned” stereotypes, and also the teachers and families are triggered to critically reflect these stereotypes. At the end of each school year every club presents their solution to their colleagues, other teachers and families, as well as to other clubs during the final conference that assembled more than 1,400 participants and 53 clubs in 2020.
Best practices and challenges
Girls Code it Better made good experiences working with young girls. “When they are 11, they are children, their mind is open to receive every information.” explains our interviewee. ”It can be more difficult at the higher school, there they [the girls] have just decided what they are. They decide to be something and are only 14 years old, but society expects a role and it starts in high school.” So young girls are very interested, energetic and are eager to participate. The Girls Code it Better clubs and the final presentations also provide opportunities to have contact with the girls’ families and foster critical thinking on existing stereotypes in the girls’ social environments. When girls are confronted with the given problem and start to reflect about potential solutions, some participants come up with typical “girly things and pink ideas”, but others have “green and black ideas”. They start to think, share their views, discuss and find different ways and angles to address the problem. They are unified by a common wish and pleasure to create something.
The final “Code & Tell” event is an event where every girl can share their experiences, show what they have created to other girls and their families, and talk about their learning experience. There is no competition. Talking to other people about their experiences is very exciting and motivating for them. The initiative never wanted to introduce a competitive element. Every project is understood as original and should not be evaluated. The interviewee states that “the happiness of girls can be evaluated and the knowledge they have created”, but not the solutions that they have developed.
With the Covid-19 pandemic, the Girls Code it Better activities had to be conducted online, which offered the possibility to connect girls across the country. The underlying technology was Google Meets and Google Classroom, which have already been partly used in the years before. At the time when conducting the interview, the organisers were in exchange with some of the participating girls to reflect upon the advantages and disadvantages of the online clubs.
Like the years before there was a strong interest of girls and they participated in the clubs, although it had to be online. Many of them were happy with what they experienced, as they could meet and collaborate even over distance. Complexity was added to the situation for those clubs who decided to do something very concrete, like 3d printing. But in these cases the organisers cooperated with local fablabs to do the printing for the girls.
Some girls said that they specifically enjoyed meeting girls in different schools from different parts of Italy. They communicated online with other girls, who worked on the same problem but in other schools and communities, and discussed their different approaches to solve the problems.
“For us it was interesting to see – this is a different generation. Sometimes what we see as a problem is something quite natural for the girls. So we have to understand what they think about. For us it is unnatural, for them it is normal.“ (Interviewee from Girls Code It Better)
In the school year 2021/2022 Girls Code it Better plans to turn back to their offline mode of working, but they will keep the opportunity for girls to get in contact with other girls all around Italy to discuss their ideas and solutions.
“We always say that the diversity is inside the girls, and not from girls to boys”.