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Kickstart your coding journey through the Microsoft YouthSpark JumpStart Webinar with Empire Code: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC5kcrYGJIm4g4-4rim8ToiQ

All you need is the Microsoft MakeCode online coding editor and a BBC Micro:bit. If you haven't got a micro:bit yet, you can still learn with the emulator which works great too!
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Women in Asia are Shaping our Future and we are delighted that one of them showcased in this +Microsoft Asia video is our very own Felicia Chua, co-founder of Coding Garage. #MakeWhatsNext #ShapeOurFuture

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SPp17fd5Aig

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The Future (of Tech) – Where are the Girls?

Singapore, May 12, 2017 – When a computer trained on Google News articles was asked to complete this analogy: “Man is to Computer Programmer as Woman is to X”, “Homemaker” came back as the answer (phys.org). A result that reflects the gender bias captured in existing datasets and this simple fact: contrary to other industries and fields of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), the gender gap in computer science has widened, with the proportion of computer science degrees obtained by women dropping from 37% in the 1980s to 18% today (Quartz Media).

At the dawn of the 4th industrial revolution, this under-representation of women in computing exacerbates the skills’ shortage faced by tech companies and the loss of the so-called “diversity’s dividend” (i.e. companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians, McKinsey & Company). From a women’s perspective, their under-representation affects their own capacity to pursue high qualified jobs; in 2017, the top 20 occupations require STEM skills according to LinkedIn.

The explanatory factors commonly cited are perception biases, with a popular culture – impacted by a male dominated computer gaming culture in the 1980s – that conveyed the idea that technology is not for women and that computer science only equates computer programming; problems in the education pipeline that push girls away from STEM; and the lack of role models for girls interested in tech (McKinsey & Company).

Similar barriers have been successfully lifted in other industries that used to be dominated by males, such as law, finance and medicine. Let us have a closer look at the feminization of finance.

(1) In this industry, feminization progressively happened in sub-sectors which value attributes that women tend to embody more such as long-term and global perspective taking, nurturing, empathy, detail orientation or networked thinking. For instance, in banking, the gender gap has narrowed in private banking where building long-term relationships with clients is critical for success. Female private bankers now outnumber men in Asia 3-to-2 (Straits Times). Fintech is another sub-sector that attracts women. Of the top 20 fintech companies in China, 50% had women in the founder, CEO, or senior management roles; this could be attributed to the diversity of work provided by fintech firms, where women can fulfil roles spanning finance, customer service, digital marketing, and operations (Oliver Wyman).

(2) Female role models contributed to a gender shift. In Thailand, women represent 31% of board and executive committee members in financial services, the highest proportion in the world after Norway and Sweden. Along with the education system, this performance can be attributed to the leadership of the central bank, which was run by a woman from 2006 to 2010. A central bank job is considered to be of high status in Thailand and parents tend to support their daughters if they plan careers in this field (Bloomberg).

(3) Finally, ensuring that girls are represented in specific curricula led to a higher representation of women in finance roles with technical barriers of entry. Singapore has the highest percentage of female fund managers in the world, with 30% of women compared to a global average of 14% (Bloomberg Reports), which can be explained by a high percentage of women CFA holders.

What lessons can be drawn from the feminization patterns of the finance industry for the tech sector? Tech companies typically offer a wide array of functions and the opportunity to have a diverse career. The industry needs programmers but also sociologists, natural language experts, philosophers, etc. to shape the future of tech and Artificial Intelligence (AI). A progressive feminization is possible, keeping in mind that a gender balance should cover technical roles to ensure that product design addresses the needs of all segments of the population. Gender diversity – and diversity in general – would avoid blind spots in new products (as an example, Apple had once left out a menstruation feature in their health-tracking app) and pitfalls with algorithms that, if not made gender neutral, tend to magnify existing stereotypes and accentuate the gender gap (Bloomberg). As seen in finance, role models can contribute to the perception shift of tech. This is critical to build the pipeline of future talents, together with a continuous support from parents to encourage their daughters to choose STEM.

Equipped with computing skills, girls can dream big. Man is to Computer Programmer as Woman is to … the answer is in your hands.

Delphine Günther, for Coding Garage.
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Tech in the Classroom – 3 Fears Parents Should Overcome

Singapore, May 30, 2017 – Watch the British drama series Downton Abbey and you’ll find yourself chuckling when Mrs Patmore, the head chef, fears the invention of the electric whisk. Although meant to make her job easier, this gave her job insecurities. Then came the shock of having a refrigerator in the kitchen. The Dowager Countess of Grantham comments too: “First, electricity, now telephones. Sometimes I feel as if I were living in an H.G. Wells novel”. Even the Earl of Grantham has his moment, appalled by having a “wireless” (radio) in the home, fearing that his family would do nothing but sit around it all day instead of making conversation. A “phase” that will pass he comments. The fears people had in the late 19th and early 20th century over newly invented gadgets and technology, all of which we take for granted today. Why do us humans fear change?

Technology in Australia’s schools is thriving, with Year 1s (children between the ages of 6 and 7) of a private school in Perth providing iPads for our next generation to not only learn phonics and math, but to also unleash their creativity such as writing short stories, producing mini movie clips and sharing excursion experiences. Technology enables students to collaborate with one another, receive immediate feedback and gain access to updated digital textbooks.

The learning environment of “digital natives” is very different from what the current generation of parents experienced at school. At Coding Garage, we regularly meet with parents who share their concerns or raise legitimate questions about the impact of new technologies in the classroom. In this article, we address three of their most common fears.

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(1) How does the tech-driven teaching environment compare with the “pen and paper” methods? How can children focus with so many distractions?

Computers or tablets are often multi-purpose. As parents experience themselves at their work place with the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) practice, one may use the same laptop for work and play. Hence, whether in the classroom or at home to do their homework, children may be more distracted by the possibility to chat with friends on social media or to play online games. The lack of focus associated with a constant digital multi-tasking may prevent them from performing assignments or readings on foundational skills that require a sustained attention and acute concentration. A 2012 study by OECD (The Straits Times) found that students who use computers very often in school get worse results, particular in reading performance, than those who use them moderately.

Solutions that can typically be implemented by teachers and parents alike is to install programs to control access to certain apps. However, rather than controlling the environment, we believe that teaching children how to focus in a digital environment is more effective for them to acquire good habits. In a society characterized by real-time information and constant social media interactions, children need to learn how to appropriately use technology and resist distractions to be future-ready.

In fact, if well integrated into the curriculum, technology is part of the solution. By offering a more immersive learning experience, and making it fun for the digital natives to learn, focus is a natural outcome. Technology also makes it possible to cater to individual needs, for instance by offering solutions for students with dyslexia or learning difficulties, making the classroom more inclusive and engaged.

(2) How do we control the content that my child is potentially exposed to? What if my child misplaces the tablet?

With the use of web-based tools in the classroom, parents are often concerned about safety and privacy for their children, especially at a young age.

Schools take precautions. Staff are trained to help students with the appropriate use of technology, there are rules and students are required to abide them. Other measures in place include internet filtering, restrictions based on age groups and monitoring systems to alert staff of any inappropriate use. Increased education in helping parents remove this fear can help. This will enable parents to take a more active part in their children’s learning and homework, hence reducing the digital divide. The fact remains, like the radio or refrigerator, technology is here to stay and education is the best way to ease fears.

Parents worry too that their children may misplace the hardware provided in school through damage, loss or theft. Measures vary by country and school to prevent and manage this risk. These typically include systems installed on laptops to track the devices if stolen, use of cloud technology to avoid loss of data, as well as insurance policies to keep thefts and recovery costs down. In Australia for instance, some schools ensure that devices are insured countrywide.

(3) What about the impact digital tools may have on my child’s health?

Parents usually express concerns related to the impact of screen time on the eyesight and the exposure to radiation on their child’s health. There is a particular concern about the Electromagnetic Radiation (EMR) emitted by hand-held devices, including tablet computers used at school and connected to the internet. Radiation emitted by cell phones or tablets is nonionizing radiation as opposed to ionizing radiation, meaning that it doesn’t break down atoms and molecules, but our bodies still absorb it. This is measured by the Specific Absorption Rate (SAR), which is the rate at which energy from wireless technology is absorbed into the body. In the United States, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requires that devices perform with a SAR level of less than 1.6 watts per kilogram (W/kg) over 1g of tissue. The EU regulators enforce a limit of 2 W/kg but over 10g of tissue. For instance, the latest iPad model has an SAR of 1.18 W/kg over 1g.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), despite many studies, the evidence for any effect of electromagnetic fields remains highly controversial. “The results to date contain many inconsistencies, but no large increases in risk have been found for cancer in children or adults.” WHO still pursues research to address possible health effects of exposure to EMF in the long run, especially for children.

FCC indicates that “For users who are concerned with the adequacy of this standard or who otherwise wish to further reduce their exposure, the most effective means to reduce exposure is to hold the mobile phone away from the body and to use a speakerphone or hands-free accessory.” As a precautionary measure, when using tablets, teachers and parents may ensure that children keep space between themselves and the device.

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Technology is an enabler. Building the capacity of educators, parents, and children to appropriately use it at school and at home is critical to successfully reinventing education and transforming fears into positive change drivers.

Delphine Günther & Jasmine Tang-Ree, for Coding Garage.

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