Thanks for joining us, Dr Ghani. Can you start by telling us a bit more about how R-Girls started and how it has evolved?
“Absolutely. R-Girls got its inspiration from the founder of the NHSR Community - Professor Mohammed, while he was a governor at Green Oak Academy.
We are trying to solve a global problem where women - especially from deprived socio-economic and diverse ethnic backgrounds - are underrepresented in data science. With data science not featuring in the school curriculum, teachers are often unaware of the enhancements data science can bring to learning and development both within and beyond the school. R-Girls aims to address these gaps by introducing R into secondary education, to support the teaching of a range of science and technology subjects.
As an inner-city school in the UK, Green Oak Academy’s catchment aligns with the deprived, ethnically diverse backgrounds that are underrepresented on a global scale.
I immediately recognised how this initiative would enrich the curriculum for the girls at my school. Whilst my background is in maths and statistics, I knew nothing about R – however the idea of using a modern data science language to support the teaching of maths, statistics, science and geography was extremely attractive.
The proposal by Professor Mohammed to use R across the curriculum in subjects such as maths, science and geography, ensuring it was not going to be taught as an isolated computer science topic, was of particular interest. We put in a bid to RConsortium and were delighted to be given seed funding.
And with a strong team of inspiration R users including Hadley Wickham, David Spiegelhalter, Julia Silge, Heather Turner, Emma Rand, Colin Gillespie, Chris Beeley, Dave Hewitt, Bahman Rostami-Tabar and Lauren Chadwick (RStudio), we set on developing 10 initial lessons set to inspire the next generation of girls.”
How many schools are currently involved and what are your plans to extend the campaign?
“This is the first year of our project. So far, the lessons have been piloted and successfully trialled at our school and more informally at other places across the world. We are now seeking collaboration with other teachers and schools.
We have an active Twitter account, which we use to share our story and reach out to others. We’ve been most grateful to Ascent for a year’s subscription to RStudio Cloud which ensured we could hit the ground running with our lessons, without the pain of installation on individual computers. This is a big deal, as schools are very busy places with staff already overcommitted. We had to find a solution to the education system constraints.”
Do you plan to work alongside other national type campaigns?
“There are active campaigns such as InnovateHer operating in secondary education, and we’d love to join forces. Presently, we’re a very new network so we would welcome advice and support from anyone who can help us. Of course, the ability to secure ongoing partnerships and funding is instrumental to our success.”
What level of data skills is required in school to enable the use of your tools?
“Our lessons are aimed at absolute newbies, so no prior knowledge is required. We’ve designed them to be oven-ready and used by non-specialist teachers in the classroom. They are laid out in a format familiar to teachers with lesson objectives, success criteria and keywords etc. We do not yet teach R programming per se, but that is in the pipeline. We took an early design decision to teach our lessons using RMarkdown as an effective way to help students integrate text and data science into a single document.
Currently, we provide code with example data for students to explore in R and then they use the code with their own data using basic tools such as copy and paste. Typically, data is collected from an experiment done in a lesson.
We are looking to find ways for our students to learn R programming in the longer term. One idea we have is to signpost our students to other resources suitable for their age.”
Can you tell us more about the interest from the girls and what skills they have developed so far?
“Our girls are finding it fun and their feedback is very positive. They are asking for more lessons and also for the opportunity to actually learn R programming. The girls find the lessons a completely new experience and they are learning to find their way around RStudio Cloud and RMarkdown files with a pinch of R programming. Some of the feedback to date includes:
“The coding and programming was actually quite fun ….. it was a great feeling knowing that I was able to code a whole bar chart all by myself”
“Very interesting and exciting”
“I have learnt a lot of new things about coding and found a new hobby"
“Even better if we did R lessons more often"
“Longer lessons please to help us learn how to code more"
It’s too early to really evaluate the overall impact is it having - however what I do know is that we are having fun lessons in school and we have had external visitors to deliver and support lessons which has been inspiring for the girls. They are really enjoying the experience and are eager for more. These are very positive indicators, not to mention the fact that we are addressing an important skills gap of the future.”
Why do you feel it is important to introduce R to girls at secondary age?
This is what R-Girls is all about: plugging the digital skills gap and providing equal opportunities to underrepresented parts of society.
It is so important that schools are part of the solution and by introducing R early on, we are encouraging girls to imagine and explore a far broader range of possible career opportunities.
If we can play a part in future generations’ success in the workplace by breaking down barriers from a young age, then we have fulfilled our mission.”
What long term change would you like to see as a result of R-Girls?
“Our top 3 priorities are:
To see data science embedded into the curriculum with support for girls and teachers
To see an annual conference for R-Girls with a student and a teacher track
To build a dedicated R-Girls technical team to support getting others get off the ground.
In year 1, we set 3 core objectives, which have all been achieved. These were:
To set up a website
To develop and trial 10 lessons and
To network with other R Communities and user groups.
We have posted all the lessons on our website as well as the TES (Times Educational Supplement) website, where they can be viewed and downloaded.”
And finally, for all the potential supporters out there, how do you use the donations you receive fundraising and donations?
“We use the funds to support the development of additional R lessons and access to RStudio Cloud and support networking activities including conference presentations. We’re really grateful to the R Community for choosing us as the official beneficiary of the EARL Conference 2022.
In addition, a special thanks goes out to the efforts of our project team which includes; Professor M A Mohammed, teachers at Green Oak Academy, R-Ladies collaborators from all over the world - including Jenny Sloane (USA), Batool Almarzouq (Saudi Arabia), Iman Al-Hasani (Oman) and Nasrin Fathollahzadeh Attar (Iran) – without them our success to date would not have been possible.”
You can see Dr Ghani in action on the EARL stage on 8th September.