Australia’s digital economy is now worth $79 billion and is predicted to grow to $139 billion by 2020. To power this growth and ensure Australia does not miss out on these opportunities, we will need a workforce of young people with skills in computational thinking and computer science. This means boosting participation and engagement with students today, so they can have the jobs of tomorrow.
Australia will need extra 100,000 people skilled in ICT by 2020 if it is to keep pace with rising demand. But in the last decade, despite a 31 per cent growth in industry employment, the number of young people starting IT courses at university has fallen by over 50 per cent.
The growth of Australia’s tech industry is being constrained by the fact that we are not producing enough software engineers. A big part of that is because we are not encouraging young people, particularly young women, to study computer science and IT.
Currently ICT skills and education outcomes are skewed against women and girls – overcoming this imbalance is a vital step to a more engaged and inclusive workforce.
Labor wants to ensure all Australians share in the benefits of the new economy, especially women.
What’s the problem?
Australia has a chronic shortage of women graduating with computer science or coding skills. Since 2001, the rate of women enrolling in an IT degree has actually fallen from about 1 in 4 to just 1 in 10.
This is despite women leading major IT companies in Australia like Google, Microsoft, Intel, Twitter and Telstra, and Australian women creating successful technology-reliant companies like RedBalloon.
Continuing to see women fall behind in IT will limit our capacity for all Australians to capture and embrace the opportunities of the digital economy, let alone meet the projected demand for ICT skills across industry. Additionally, the lack of diversity will begin to affect our innovation.
If women were represented proportionally to their undergraduate enrolment numbers we would double the amount of software engineers in Australia.
As the US National Center for Women in Technology recently pointed out:
Groups with greater diversity solve complex problems better and faster than do homogenous groups, and the presence of women in a group is more likely to increase the collective intelligence of the group.
On top of that, women could be left out economically, shut out from influential positions in industry and government due lack of relevant skills and experience and perpetuate the gender gap in Australian IT in which currently:
What’s Labor’s solution?
It is crucial that young women learn to code and consider careers in ICT as early as possible to have a stake in what the world looks like in the future.
There is a critical need for more women role models to encourage girls to pursue computer science.
That is why Labor is announcing Girls into Code a $4.5 million grants program to support organisations that promote, encourage and inspire girls to learn code.
Our future computer scientists and engineers should be inspired to become the next Ada Lovelace, Edith Clarke, Grace Murray Hopper, Radia Perlman, Emmy Noether or the ENIAC programmers.
To improve rates of participation by women in technology jobs, we need to capture girls’ interest by starting early, providing opportunities for them to experience the creative side of ICT like Carnegie Mellon’s Alice and MIT’s Scratch, highlight role models and demonstrate diverse career paths while moving away from stereotypes.
More needs to be done to facilitate mentoring and access to role models, networking opportunities, train teachers and connect coding programs to schools, building confidence in girls to take up further study, showcase their talent and immerse girls in technology-reliant businesses.
Currently, there are organisations and movements that are doing great work through engaging and inclusive programs that inspire young women and girls to code:
- Across Australia – like Code Club Australia, CoderDojo, Code Like a Girl, DigiGirlz, Code Camp, Tech Girls Movement, Girls Make Games, Start with Code, Robotics Club Australia, Women Who Code, RoboGals, Girls Geek Academy, Girls Programming Network, We Speak Code, and Go Girl Go for IT
- In the US and New Zealand – like Girls Who Code, Programming Challenge 4 Girls and She++
- Through big-tech companies like Google, Telstra, Intel, Microsoft, and Westpac
Code Club is a network of out-of-school-hours coding clubs for children aged 9 -11 years. It is led by teachers and volunteers who run weekly hour-long clubs at primary schools to teach kids the basics of computer programming and logic. Children learn through fun and exciting activities which develop creativity and problem solving skills, with almost 8,000 students already participating.
In addition, Code Club Australia works with classroom teachers to help them build their computer programming and code skills, so they can encourage, support and inspire students.
CoderDojo is an open source, volunteer-led movement orientated around running free coding clubs (Dojos) for young people between 7 - 17 years old.
At a CoderDojo, young people learn how to code, develop websites, apps, programs, games and more. Dojos are set up, run by and taught at by volunteers. Dojos organise tours of technology companies, bring in guest speakers to talk about their career and what they do, and organise events.
Robogals is a student-run organisation that aims to engage school aged girls in engineering topics from a young age, with the long-term goal of increasing female enrolment in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) courses at universities.
Their primary activity is having university student volunteers (both female and male) visit girls’ primary schools to run LEGO robotics workshops and mentor teams in LEGO robotics competitions.
By conducting these activities in a girls-only environment, the classroom dynamic is such that the girls are able to participate fully in the robot building and programming. Robogals also targets high school girls with career talks at the age when they are making choices regarding later-year school subjects and tertiary courses.
Labor will build on these programs by making grants of up to $150,000 available for projects run by organisations like these, enabling them to scale up their activities across the country and boost girls’ participation in computational training.
A focus of this program will be to ensure stronger partnerships with schools, tech companies and skilled professionals as mentors.
Why is coding important?
Australia’s Chief Scientist Ian Chubb has said that:
“If the digital economy is an arena, then the skills you need to play include computer programming and coding. Informatics gives us these skills and this event highlights the global nature and ferocity of the competition.’’
In May, Labor announced that a Shorten Labor Government would ensure computer programming, computational thinking and digital technologies – coding – is taught in every primary and secondary Australian school by 2020.
Labor will also invest $9 million to establish a National Coding in Schools (NCIS) centre so that all teachers in Australia have the opportunity to develop their skills, and every student can have access to exciting ways to learn coding. NCIS will collaborate and link with industry and experts to develop the materials and content to support coding in schools.
Over 12 European countries already have computer programing and coding as part of their curriculum and a further 7 are in the process of introducing it. Countries, including New Zealand and Singapore are in the process including coding in the curriculum. Computer programming and coding is already part of the primary curriculum in England, Belgium and Finland, Estonia, the Netherlands, Italy and Greece.
Labor’s proposals have been costed by the independent Parliamentary Budget Office. The program will cost around $4.5m over the forward estimates.
Funding for this policy will be offset from existing announcements Labor has made in making sure multinational companies pay their fair share of tax in Australia, reducing superannuation tax concessions and abolishing the Emissions Reduction Fund.