Girlguiding STEM badges – great news, but a generation late in the reporting

Guide Computer and Science interest badges. Not the new ones – the originals from ~1990!

You may have heard in the news that Girlguiding are looking to inspire girls and young women into STEM by introducing new interest badges.  This is, without a doubt, fantastic news.  The interest badge system has been a backbone of both Scouting and Guiding since they began as a way of encouraging young people to try new things.  So, helping Guides explore these skills with new badges is a great step forward.

Or is it?  The BBC article pokes gentle fun at the old-fashioned image of Guiding with the journalist’s memories of badges for tying knots and table-laying: “Fast forward some 25 years and it’s clear much has changed”1

I was a Brownie2, Guide, Young Leader, Queen’s Guide and have been a leader for Rainbow and Brownie units when work permits3.  I was in the Guides 25 years ago and remember things differently. Back in the late 1980s when home computers were starting to be a thing I was really pleased to see the Computer and Scientific Investigator badges available to me.

While my old badge book is impossible to find4, I can clearly remember the things required to gain the Computer badge5:

  1. Demonstrate how to connect the computer, monitor and other items required.  Explain what each part does and show how the computer turns on.
  2. Show how to load a program from a cassette or disk.
  3. Write a program that runs on your computer and demonstrate it working.  Explain how it works, how you designed it and how you tested it6

So, I needed to understand the physical components and create some software.  While trivial by today’s standards, this was quite a lot to do when programming was something that children were only just starting to access and a computer in the home was still an unusual thing.

The science communicator badge was similar.  I recall designing my own experiment, carrying it out, analysing the results, and displaying and talking about the results.

This is great.  A generation ago7 Guides had STEM badges.  What bothers me is why is this news now?  Why did they disappear from the available badges?  At what point did we decide that girls simply weren’t interested in STEM and they were quietly dropped?  This is the tragedy.   As computers changed, did the badge not change as quickly as the technology?

As I moved away from being a Guide myself, I didn’t keep up with the news of what was happening and why and I have a pang of regret that I wasn’t involved enough to champion my passions.  I’m grateful that there are equally passionate Guides and Leaders that are pushing this forward and encouraging girls now.

So, absolutely, let’s bring these badges back, let’s encourage children to be interested in STEM, learn critical thinking and be inspired by the world around them.  But I also think it’s worth while reflecting on why we have this problem now, so that we don’t repeat it in future.

  1. I’d say this is more like 50+ years ago, or maybe she was in a very old fashioned unit!
  2.   Sadly I was slightly too old to be a Rainbow!
  3.   Which is not as often as I’d like, but I still support Girlguiding as often as I can outside of regular unit meetings.
  4. I wouldn’t have thrown it away, it’s almost certainly in a sealed box somewhere with the rest of my Guiding paraphernalia.
  5. This may not be verbatim, but was an essence of what needed to be done.
  6. The testing part might be an addition of mine, I remember talking about this with the person who assessed me, but it might not have been a requirement.
  7. Much as it pains me to say that and acknowledge the speed at which my life is passing.

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Dr Janet is a Molecular Biochemistry graduate from Oxford University with a doctorate in Computational Neuroscience from Sussex. I’m currently studying for a third degree in Mathematics with Open University. During the day, and sometimes out of hours, I work as a Chief Science Officer. You can read all about that on my LinkedIn page.