Mentoring Australian Girls in ICT
In Australia, the participation rate for females in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) courses in secondary, vocational and higher education is significantly lower than that of males, and is decreasing (Thorp, 2004). In Queensland, Australia, only 20% (at most) of ICT students and employees are female, with the IT first preferences for tertiary admission down 22% for 2004 enrolments (Thorp, 2003). This downturn is in line with the trend in other Western countries and reflects the general lack of interest in ICT education amongst adolescents.
Recent Australian research confirms the importance of role models and mentors when adolescents are considering career options (Clayton, 2005). The importance of implementing sustainable strategies, such as mentoring programs, to rectify this imbalance cannot be understated. Jepson and Peri (2002) believe that mentoring programs should commence at middle and high school. Early mentoring programs are valuable as girls have fewer ICT role models and mentors in the classroom, industry and computer games (Carey, 2001). Mentors in these programs need to provide an accurate portrayal of the broad range of careers available in the ICT field (Klawe, 2002).
To date, a number of mentoring programs and intervention activities have been and continue to be undertaken in Queensland. This chapter presents three different mentoring programs the authors have been involved in and discusses the challenges involved in implementing these strategies. The first two programs discussed are for high school students and the third is for university students in ICT degree programs (von Hellens, Beekhuyzen, & Nielsen, 2005).
Adding to the complexity of this problem, funding to implement programs aimed at increasing female participation in ICTs may be difficult to justify due to the problems of measuring the effectiveness in achieving this goal. Australian researchers recognize this problem and are concerned about the absence of ongoing evaluation of programs to encourage girls into ICTs (Lang, 2003). While this chapter makes recommendations for implementing new strategies based on the experiences discussed, more work needs to be done on how to evaluate the efficacy of ongoing and future strategies.