Schools that emphasise the communicative aspects of information technology are likely to attract more girls to what has long been seen as a male-dominated subject.
Researchers at Sheffield and Loughborough universities have studied internet use and understanding in rural and urban schools. "All the existing masculine and feminine stereotypes are reproduced in the IT classroom," said Sarah Holloway, lecturer in geography at Loughborough University and co-author of the teams' report to the RGS-IBG conference.
"There are the 'techie' boys, those who are into programming as well as games, but who aren't really masculine enough for the 'laddy' lads, who would much rather be seen to be playing football than to be in front of a computer. Similarly, there are the louder girls who see computers as a kind of social death, as it would stop them from getting the boyfriend they wanted."
Girls are much more likely to be attracted to email than boys and can become interested in computer programming from there. "Girls are challenging the stereotype that computers are a male thing," said Dr Holloway. "The games culture has brought the same adolescent cultural stereotypes into a new arena, where girls are showing that they can use machines effectively."
The internet is used stereotypically by both sexes, with the 'laddy' lads searching for their favourite football team while the girls tend to search for their preferred pop star. "What is interesting is that the kids at all levels view their internet knowledge as entirely normal, while most of us would still see it as a new skill."