Mostly boys taking up computer-type studies

Twice as many boys are studying computer-related subjects in Southland schools as girls, with industry professionals placing the blame on schools.

Figures released by the Ministry of Education under the Official Information Act show twice as many boys studied computer/digital-related subjects at NCEA level as girls in Southland schools in 2013.

Male pupils outnumbered their female counterparts in graphics, technology, materials technology, computer studies and electronics and control classes last year.

The only digital-based subject in which the number of Southland girls exceeded boys across all NCEA levels was text and information management, covering typing and administrative computer skills.

The gender split in Southland schools is reflected in the professional world of computers and information technology, which is an overwhelmingly male sphere.

Need a Nerd Southland owner Lynn McKenzie said the technician "nerds" working at the Southland IT franchise were all male, which was typical of similar businesses across the country.

"I don't exactly know why it's a male dominated world. The girls that do it are actually very good - there's just not many of them."

Ms McKenzie said she would like to see more females working in the industry, and believed the shortage of women in IT stemmed from the attitude of high schools.

Digitally able young women were not often encouraged by schools to gain work experience in the industry or to consider IT as a career, she said.

"We're constantly being asked from the schools to take on guys [for work experience] . . . I've never been asked to have a girl."

She knew of a female pupil who was interested in IT, but would not have followed through with further study without the support of a technician, after receiving no encouragement from her school, Ms McKenzie said.

But two Southland principals spoken to yesterday said they were simply giving students the information and the freedom to make choices, and what subjects girls chose was up to them.

Gore High School principal John McKinlay said he had not noticed a particular difference in the gender of pupils, but said the data was believable.

He agreed with the industry professionals, that more girls should be taking up the opportunities the industry offered.

Aparima College principal Kaye Day echoed Mr McKinlay's comments.

The Riverton school had not noticed any particular trends around gender. There were no stereotypes around IT being a boys subject; students simply chose what they found interesting and led to the career path they wanted to follow, she said.

"With any sort of vocation, certainly at Aparima College, it's based on their intentions with the sort of things they want to do in the future."


Need a Nerd call centre manager and technician Amanda Harrison is the only female "nerd" in the nationwide company, and has been since she started working there about seven years ago.

Ms Harrison said customers, especially those of the older generations, often mistook her for a secretary when she answered the phone.

"They're often pleasantly surprised when they realise I'm a qualified technician and can actually help them. I used to be a little bit offended by it back in the early days but now it doesn't bother me."

She landed in the industry after brushing up on her computer skills to help with accounting and realised she enjoyed the ever-changing landscape of technology more than bookwork.

The lack of women working as technicians was probably because the hands-on role was stereotyped as a masculine, mechanical job, she said. She believed more needed to be done in the classroom to inspire the next generation of technicians.

"I do think there does need to be more of a push from the schools to encourage the girls as well and make them aware that it's not just an industry for males, and that you can be very successful at it whether you're female or male."


Computing by the numbers: At NCEA level one in 2013, 416 Southland boys were enrolled in what the Ministry of Education classified as computer/digital-related subjects, compared with 205 girls.

At NCEA level three, usually undertaken in the final year of high school, 227 boys studied computer/digital-related subjects in Southland compared with 105 girls. 

The Southland Times