Companies in Emilia-Romagna in Italy are in strong need of personnel with ICT skills. Unfortunately, the education system is currently unable to meet this demand: there are still many young people who do not follow STEM courses. In particular, few girls approach university and specialist courses in science and technology. Digital Girls ER is an active orientation project whose main objective is to bring girls closer to computer science and programming through an innovative method.
The project was promoted to address the problem of the limited participation of girls in university and specialist courses in science and technology, and the consequent gap that sees a reduced presence of female workforce in the digital and scientific sectors. A problem that has a double implication, because it deprives women, and in particular the younger ones, of access to important employment opportunities in particularly dynamic and prospective contexts. And, at the same time, it impoverishes the information society, depriving it of the contribution in terms of talents and inclinations that women could bring, making it more inclusive and open to the enhancement of differences.
The current Digital Agenda of Emilia-Romagna strongly focuses on combating digital gender gaps, also through the implementation of further initiatives. The project knows that it can count on a deep-rooted habit of collaborating between different institutions and actors, both public and private, which has always characterized the territory of Emilia-Romagna which has allowed the affirmation of a virtuous and consolidated model of collaboration and multi-sharing stakeholders also in these areas.
The project consisted in the organization of 8 free Summer Camps lasting 3 weeks, of a laboratory and operational nature, in all the universities of Emilia-Romagna, during which, under the supervision of university teachers and tutors, the girls attending the last years of high school were able to learn the basics of a programming language and work in a group on the practical application of what they have learned, to create software and / or other types of products.
The project has enriched from an educational point of view and extended to the entire regional territory a previous experience promoted by the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia starting from 2014, consisting in the organization of summer campuses on digital issues aimed at high school girls. 248 girls participated in the Summer Camps - of which 6 were organized face-to-face and 2 online (to ensure the participation of those who would have had difficulty in reaching the universities). An additional 89 participants attended a seminar-based Summer Camp, organized online, witnessing testimonials from businesswomen, professors and experts on successful cases and other significant experiences in digital fields.
The project was promoted to bring girls closer to technological and scientific disciplines, making it clear that these university and specialist training courses are absolutely within their reach. We also wanted to show first-hand that the acquisition of skills and abilities in these areas opens the way to employment opportunities in the most varied contexts. We no longer study computer science to become computer scientists or at most engineers, but to work in an extremely large number of sectors, including communication, fashion, tourism, automotive, law, and most of the industrial and production sectors. , now affected by an irreversible digital transformation.
The main beneficiaries of the innovation were the girls who attended the courses. More generally, the promotion of the project has also made it possible to raise awareness of other girls potentially interested in seizing similar opportunities, the parents, teachers and schools involved and, more generally, all those who have become aware of its development.
The intention of the Emilia-Romagna Region and the project partner universities is to institutionalize the initiative, making it a fixed appointment, extending its diffusion as much as possible, through the organization of an increasing number of editions of the courses, and having care to reach even the most marginal areas and distant from the major university centers.
To do this, we will focus on a greater involvement of public and institutional actors, including Municipalities, schools, vocational training bodies, the third sector, businesses and banks in the role of sponsors and active promoters of the project, to increase its “firepower”and create ever greater awareness of the imperative of tackling digital gender gaps.
In addition to the Digital Girls training project, other summer campuses and workshops with schools on digital issues were taken as reference models in the design and implementation of the initiative. These initiatives were aimed at girls aged between 12 and 19, with a view to orientation towards STEM subjects. The Region has also created open educational resources on digital issues. Among others, robotics, 3D printing, music and digital arts, elements of artificial intelligence, etc. These resources are freely accessible to primary and lower secondary schools.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
Compared to other projects on the subject, the main element of innovation consisted in the ability to organize summer camps on digital issues, aimed exclusively at girls and promoted throughout the region, relying on the profitable and consolidated habit of collaborating and creating a system between the Region Emilia-Romagna, local universities and various other territorial entities.
A further element of innovation consisted in the approach of girls attending the last years of high school not only to technological and digital issues and disciplines, but also to the study methods and processes typical of university education. The path of "discovery" was therefore twofold: to tech subjects, from which girls are traditionally distant, and at the same time to study and learning practices with which one usually becomes familiar only when accessing university courses.
What is the current status of your innovation?
The Summer Camps were held between the end of June and the end of July and therefore the 2022 edition is currently officially over.
Nevertheless, the project continues and goes on, initially with an activity of reporting and reflection on the results of the edition just ended, to take stock of the main strengths and values, and at the same time of the most critical aspects, to be addressed. treasure in view of the organization of the next edition of the Camps, scheduled for summer 2023.
This evaluation activity, still in progress, is carried out with the involvement of all the actors involved in the organization of the project, from the Region, to the universities, to the other stakeholders, and will be completed by the autumn, so that we can then starting from the elements of knowledge and experience that emerged, to start planning the second edition, starting from the last months of 2022.
Collaborations & Partnerships
Digital Girls ER was created by Emilia-Romagna Region, Engineering Department of the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, Department of Computer Science of the University of Bologna, EWMD European Women’s Management Development, a non-profit association committed to promoting the professional development of women in the world of work, the Universities of Parma (Engineering and Architecture) and Ferrara (Engineering) ART-ER Scpa, according to the Digital Agenda of Emilia-Romagna 2020-2025
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
Girls are the protagonists of the project, the main users and the main beneficiaries. The universities with a technological and scientific address in the area (Bologna, Ferrara, Modena and Reggio Emilia, Parma, Piacenza, Ravenna, Cesena, Forlì) will see their enrollment increase. The territory in general will benefit from having more people with skills currently in high demand. Businesses in particular will benefit from this initiative.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
225 girls took part in the 8 Summer Camps organized in the summer of 2022. An additional 68 participants attended the Summer Camp online seminar. With the execution of the Camps, 8,112 hours of training credits were provided for school / work alternation. The results are absolutely in line with the promoters' expectations and testify to the excellent success of the first edition of the project. For the future, the main objective is to extend the scope of the initiative, organizing more editions of the courses in a greater number of territories, including even the most marginal areas, also providing editions in periods other than the summer window, and creating courses with similar purposes open to the participation of girls who attend the first years of high school and lower secondary school. On a numerical level, the minimum expectation is to be able, year after year, to double the participation of girls in the camps compared to the previous year.
Challenges and Failures
The main challenge, successfully faced, consisted in helping the participants to overcome mistrust towards IT subjects. A related challenge, and equally won, consisted in being able to motivate them and keep their attention high along the entire span of the camps, limiting the dropout rate to a minimum. At the organizational level, the most critical issue concerned the need to coordinate subjects, and related professional skills, belonging to distant working fields, such as the world of public administration and universities. Very important results have been obtained in terms of sharing of values and operational coordination, but there are still ample margins for improvement that we will reach.From the point of view of communication in the first year, the most important challenges concerned the ability to find private sponsors interested in supporting the project, and the ability to involve schools and universities to motivate girls to participate.
Conditions for Success
To ensure a growing success of the project, it will be essential to affirm an ever greater propensity to collaborate between the various actors, from the Region to universities, local authorities and the various territorial realities active in the field of digital training, also with a view to scalability and replicability of courses. Collaboration will also be essential to promote even more effectively the purposes and opportunities deriving from participation in the courses. For example, teachers and digital animators in schools can be adequately sensitized to motivate girls to participate, focusing on the possibility of acquiring training credits for school-work alternation.
Finally it will be essential to communicate in a more effective and targeted way to the growing number of companies interested in supporting digital training initiatives aimed at girls, also in consideration of the growing need for female workforce in possession of adequate skills in these disciplinary areas.
Repeatability is already inherent in the launch of this project, which in fact replicates and extends a previous experience promoted by a single university, enriching its contents and extending it to the entire regional territory. Starting from this assumption, the intention of the promoters is to focus strongly on this element as well to extend its reach and the related results as much as possible. To do this, one of the main future objectives will consist in raising the awareness and involvement of various territorial subjects, from Municipalities and Unions of Municipalities to vocational training institutions, to Fablabs, to other realities that deal with digital training, making available methodologies, models and procedures that allow them to organize further editions of the courses, or similar initiatives, in their own contexts of action and intervention.
The main lesson learned is that there is great interest in initiatives of this kind on the part of girls and their parents, even in younger age groups than those involved in 2022. This interest must therefore be intercepted, focusing among other things on adequate communication initiatives, which involve schools in an increasingly active way, to increase participation in courses.
A further lesson learned is that local companies are also increasingly interested in supporting projects of this kind, both to obtain returns in terms of image, and to contribute to the training of girls in STEM disciplines, to meet the growing needs of professionals with digital and technological skills. Also in this case, adequate communication, especially if as targeted and widespread as possible, will be essential to intercept this interest and motivate more and more companies to sponsor the project, also with a view to the long-term sustainability of the initiative.
Among the innovative elements of the project, fundamental for the success of the first edition, we must also include: the involvement of tutors, researchers and doctoral students who are young and close to the participants in terms of experiences, inclinations and culture; the availability of digital animators and high school teachers and promoting knowledge of the project in their work contexts and relational circles, increasing participation in the camps; the involvement of private sponsors which has made it possible to further spread the knowledge of the project and find useful resources for the acquisition of tools and equipment used during the camps; and finally, from the didactic point of view, the exploitation of the notions and skills acquired on various application areas, from environmental monitoring to home automation. A fundamental element to highlight the ever wider and more widespread effects of digital on the most varied areas of everyday life.
- Implementation - making the innovation happen
- Evaluation - understanding whether the innovative initiative has delivered what was needed
4 January 2023