Nadia Ng isn’t like most 12-year-old girls. At an age where many of her peers are interested in making charm bracelets or posing for the perfect selfie, Nadia is fascinated by wind turbines and solar panels.
“Such technology provide humans with an alternative energy source instead of just using an exhaustible energy source like fossil fuels,” notes the Secondary 1 student at Nanyang Girls’ High School. “It also helps to save the environment and many countries are gradually starting to use it. It’s one example among many that demonstrates how technology helps to improve our lives and change it for the better.”
Big words for a small girl, but this tween sure does walk the talk. She fell in love with all things tech at age 9 after a robotics lesson at Nanyang Primary School, where she used to study.
As to why she’s so keen on tech topics, Nadia says, “I enjoy thinking creatively and find technology to be a very intriguing. I think it’s very important for the youth of today to be more tech-savvy as the world is advancing into the technological age and many jobs are gradually taken over by machinery or computers.”
Now crazy about futuristic technology, she aspires to develop new apps or programs to better the lives of everyone as the world is “looking for people who can come up with interesting and innovative technology and applications”.
Girls who run the world
Although tech gurus like Mark Zuckerberg and the late Steve Jobs are household names, women today have made some major inroads in this arena as well. These include Yahoo! chief executive officer Marissa Mayer and Facebook’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg.
“In Singapore, Google’s director is Joanna Flint,"points out Dr Sharon Tan, an assistant professor at the Department of Information Systems at NUS School of Computing. “This signals that women play an important role in technology.” Jacqueline Poh is also the CEO of Government Technology Agency (GovTech) of Singapore, which is leading the government's drive to use technology to create citizen-centric solutions.
“I think it’s very important for the youth of today to be more tech-savvy as the world is advancing into the technological age and many jobs are gradually taken over by machinery or computers.”
But still, they are too few. At Computhink, a programming school for kids, where Nadia goes for classes, boys make up 60 to 70 per cent of her classmates. “I think this is due to the social perception that girls are not interested in technology, or that boys just love tech stuff better,” notes David Lee, Computhink’s founder and principal trainer. “Some girls may feel that it is un-girly to even want to show interest.”
“We all know that if we give a kid a phone they will know what buttons to press, how to move from application to application and know how to navigate somehow,” Dr Tan says. “They are born into this digital age and tech is all around them.”
Technology’s pervasiveness also spills into everyday life and career opportunities. Notes Yeo Shan Lyn, 13, a student at Singapore Chinese Girls’ School and a Computhink student, “Most people rely a lot on technology in their daily lives and work, so being technologically savvy is very important. If you at least know your way around a computer or how to fix things, it will also make your life a lot easier, and you will have a better chance of getting a job.”
So why isn’t your daughter interested in tech as much as your son? Read on to find out…
Why aren’t girls getting their geek on?
Dr Tan adds that technology exposure also hones skills you already have, such as analysing and problem solving. So, if they are exposed to computers and gadgets from the get-go and know they have plenty to benefit from it, why do so many girls lose interest along the way?
Probably because of certain misconceptions, say both experts SmartParents spoke to. A common one is that programming can be a very dry, boring and hard-to-understand subject. This is only true when it’s taught the traditional way, Lee points out, which usually deters girls ― and even some boys ― from pursuing it.
Another reason: Computing has become synonymous with coding and programming. “Kids think it only involves apps, games and watching YouTube,” says Dr Tan. “Since this is all they are familiar with ― it becomes their notion about what technology is.”
Parents and kids may also not be aware of what working in tech entails. For instance, digital marketing requires skills like talking, engaging, doing data analysis and research. If your little girl prefers being in the forefront, instead of just staring at the computer all day, she will enjoy doing business analytics where she gets to engage with the business user, try to understand their needs and recommend the right products.
Got an art aficionado at home? Junior might enjoy designing user interfaces that create a seamless link between human and computer interaction, “This could also be in terms of making the devices look aesthetically nice and ergonomic,” adds Dr Tan. Then there are also those female go-getters who want to make their mark in the tech industry directly by setting up their own online businesses. “That said, I also think there are a number of girls who like coding and programming,” Dr Tan points out.
Gad her started
Whether your tween girl is showing some interest in tech or none at all, the best thing you can do as a parent is to keep the doors open and expose her to as many different aspects of computing as possible.
Nadia suggests, “Coding is a great place to start as it allows even the youngest of children to use their creativity to create games and applications.” At Computhink, where kids are free to create any type of game they like, animation and playing games make lessons more fun and relevant for them. Shan Lyn adds, “There are also many online websites with coding exercises.”
“Coding is a great place to start as it allows even the youngest of children to use their creativity to create games and applications.”
Parents could show their interest by signing up for a coding or robotics class themselves. “Then you can assemble a robot or build a website together as a family,” adds Lee.
If your daughter is not ready to try a class, give her a tech-based toy like the Osmo Coding Game Kit for iPad. Using the iPad as a base, this kit helps your youngster understand programming, drawing and physics, as well as hone her problem-solving skills
Does junior need some inspiration before jumping on the tech bandwagon? Then watching Project Mc2, a Netflix series where teen girl spies use their science and tech skills to solve mysteries, might just do the trick. As can CodeGirl, a documentary on the 2015 Technovation Challenge, where all-girl teams from around the world develop apps to solve problems plaguing their communities.
If your little girl needs mentoring, introduce her to Singapore Geek Girls, a local initiative that serves as a platform for females to connect, share and contribute on all things technology. This groups aims to empower the next generation of tech-centric women through fun and interactive workshops featuring hot topics like HTML and CSS.
Another way to capture junior’s attention is through The Secret Code book. This customisable book includes your daughter’s name and an avatar that looks just like her and turns her into a trailblazing heroine who goes on robotics and coding adventures that involve everyday scenarios like eating their vegetables or cleaning their rooms.
At the end of the day, the best way to bridge the gap between your little girl and technology is to make it relevant for her. It then becomes less intimidating and relatable enough for them to incorporate it as part of their everyday life.
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