research makes it clear that the gender gap cannot be tackled
exclusively through education, this is undoubtedly a crucial area
of intervention as it is through educational institutions that
women tend to take their first steps in the world of computing.
These women are strongly motivated, but motivation alone is not
enough to see them through and particular steps must be taken.
Our research has brought together information on different approaches
used in France and Great Britain that offer some interesting suggestions:
the SARAPP centres (Site Antenne Rurale de Pédagogie Personnalisée)
aim to provide for the educational needs of men and women living
in rural areas who are unable to attend formal courses because
of distance or time factors.
(centres) are structures that offer access to computers, and
where assistants provide support in the use and learning of
this technology. Self-learning applies not only to computer
skills but also to learning a range of different subjects.
A woman student highlights the positive aspects of this approach:
is interesting to work by oneself and at the same time to
have be able to get tutoring. We are asked questions, we write
back the answers and these are corrected. In normal courses
you have to keep up with the class' rhythm whereas here I
can follow at my own speed. Another advantage is autonomy…Once
I finish this course I will buy CDs to continue working with
my own PC. This is more interesting…
case education concentrates on teaching flexibility and the diffusion
of centres, even small ones, offering access to computers for
those who do not have a computer at home. Where the programme
is offered to young people who have interrupted their schooling,
the centres also rapidly become a place for socialising.
experience is very different. It directly tackles the issue of
gender and inequality and to address this there are a number of
courses aimed exclusively at women, especially at the introductory
level. A woman student explains the advantages of such a course:
teachers are all very good. It is very important that the
course is set up for women only, because they have not as
yet studied any computing. The more I learn, the more I become
interested. I don't have a computer at home yet, so I'm limited
to using the College's. The atmosphere is friendly and the
sense of support in the class has encouraged me a lot…I think
it would have been different in a mixed group. Through the
course I've gained much more self-confidence, even outside
college, with friends and family.
(student at Lewisham College)
A female instructor describes the general outline of this approach:
are few but essential rules. First, nobody can laugh about
someone else's mistakes. Second, you must tell the others
about what you find out or learn and not be jealous of what
you know and keep it for yourself. This way learning becomes
faster, also for those who are the first to make progress…In
a group there are different levels, and resources must be
(a female instructor at Lewisham College)
The choice of offering women-only courses was aimed at helping women
overcome the 'gap' that prevents them from expressing their abilities
and their potential not only within an educational environment,
but in their private lives as well.
relationship of women with technology has always been difficult.
Technology is traditionally considered an area of male interest
and specialisation. Traditionally, in a mixed class, men tend
to take the initiative and up to a point it is women themselves
who allow this. There are very clear and rigid stereotypes
about the relations of technology and gender. Although they
are mistaken, they are very much ingrained in the way of thinking
of women as well as of men.
(a female instructor at Lewisham College)
Equally interesting and provocative is the experience of those who
have rejected women-only courses in favour of mixed groups. Whereas
women only courses provide a safe environment for beginners, others,
especially more advanced students, may find these courses limiting.
We end this
brief report on the research project with the recommendation that
women should be active and self-conscious subjects in every field
and should be encouraged in their determination to overcome the
gender gap that negatively influences their access to the new