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Female secondary pupils met with Pepper the robot

Secondary school girls from across Scotland learned how to code and instruct robots after taking part in a Girls in Computer Science open day hosted by female students and academics at Heriot-Watt.

The event was created specifically to help generate an interest in computing, artificial intelligence and robotics in girls from a young age. Its aim was to address the chronic shortage of women currently employed in or studying Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) in the UK.

Pupils from George Watson's College and Gracemount High School in Edinburgh, Beath High School in Fife, and Stirling High participated in the open day.

As well as being given an overview of the university's latest research and demonstration of exhibits from Heriot-Watt's 50-year computer science history, pupils were taught how to program a mobile app. 

The one-hour MIT App Inventor session, led by female computer science students, used a graphical interface to provide a fun and interactive way to create a basic, fully functional app within an hour, which pupils could then run from their smartphones.

Computing science teacher at Stirling High School, Shona McAlpine, was joined by four pupils at the event and said, “It's really important for pupils to see what's happening outside the school classroom and learn about the different options in computing science through events like Heriot-Watt's.” 

Heriot-Watt University BSc computer systems student, Eileen Young, was one of nine female students who helped lead the MIT App Inventor session. She said, “App Inventor is a simple drag and drop system for coding Android devices. It lets the girls make their own programmes and see it on their own phones.”

Figures from Skills Development Scotland show that fewer than one in every eight (13%)  UK jobs in STEM are held by women, and just 27% of women who study a related subject pursue a career in STEM. 

Professor Fairouz Kamareddine, of Heriot-Watt's School of Mathematical & Computer Sciences, welcomed the girls to the open day.

There's been a lot of research on the gender gap between boys and girls, which is a phenomenon around the world.

Professor Fairouz Kamareddine, School of Mathematical and Computer Sciences

She said, “In general, girls, and their parents, have been brought up to believe that boys do better. There's also not many well-known role models, but there are many hugely successful computer scientists who are female.

“The first programming language was designed by a female computer scientist, Ada Lovelace, two centuries ago. Women have contributed to the synching, design and engineering of computers and we hope to encourage more into computer science through events like our open day.”

The Girls in Computer Science open day was part of Heriot-Watt University's 2017 ‘Year of Robotics'. Interested in finding out more?