A new Irish study exposes as a myth the long-held notion that boys are better at computer science than girls.
They are just as good as the males, and can be even better, according to research from Maynooth University.
And girls are also less likely than boys to drop out of their course although, at the early stages, they suffer from a lack of self-belief about their abilities.
On the other hand, boys tend to be more confident from the beginning about their abilities and their future exam performance.
But, crucially, end-of-first-year exam results show no difference between the genders – and, at the very least, the girls perform equally well.
The report, ‘Insights on Gender Differences in CS1’, was co-authored by Keith Quille, Natalie Culligan and Susan Bergin. In their findings, they state that female computer science students “under-rate” themselves.
Despite girls’ mastery in the discipline, they make up only one in five of college freshers in these courses. The low female uptake is a source of concern and attributed to gender stereotyping and the view that it is a boys’ world.
With huge shortages in graduates with the necessary skills for the digital-age economy, there is a big push to attract more female school-leavers to pursue a career in this area.
“Given the growing need for computer science graduates, increasing the number of female students is vital,” the report states.
Almost 700 students in 10 universities, institutes of technology and post-Leaving Certificate courses in Ireland, and one college in Denmark, were involved in the Maynooth study in the 2015-16 college year.
Students were surveyed on their comfort and anxiety levels around the subject at an early stage of an introductory computer programming module and researchers also compared exam results.
When they were about 10pc of the way into the module, girls were less confident about their programming ability and more anxious about tests than the boys.
This finding may be particularly surprising as the girls tended to have higher maths achievement levels when entering their course.
The students were also asked what result they thought they would get at the end of the year, with the average male predicting a score of 77pc, while the average female suggested 72pc. In the end, the girls performed at least as well as the boys.
The authors suggest the more negative attitudes displayed by girls early on may be a catalyst for studying harder.