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Volume 30, Number 4
July/August 2014

Computer Science for Everyone?

Getting girls to embrace a new basic skill

 

As parents, technology advocates, and some education leaders call for increasing the amount of computer science and coding taught in school, a glaring problem is obvious to teachers across the country: few young women seem interested.

Despite statistics showing that young women take math and science courses at nearly the same rate as men, the proportion of female computer science majors in college actually dropped from 39 percent in 1985 to 14 percent today, according to figures from the National Science Foundation and the Computing Research Association.

In high school, just 18 percent of AP Computer Science exam takers in 2013 were female, as compared with 48 percent of AP Calculus AB test takers. Non-Asian minorities are similarly underrepresented in AP Computer Science. In three states, according to analysis by Barbara Ericson, director of computing outreach at Georgia Tech, not a single girl took the AP Computer Science exam.

At the same time, Department of Labor figures show the United States is producing only enough computer science graduates to fill 61 percent of 1.4 million new computer jobs expected to be added between 2008 and 2018. Still, a 2008 survey of 1,406 college-bound teens by the Association for Computing Machinery and Boston’s WGBH public television station found that while 74 percent of college-bound males—regardless of race or ethnicity—thought computer science was a “very good” or “good” major or career, only 32 percent of females did.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.

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For Further Information

S. Cheryan, A. N. Meltzoff, and S. Kim. “Classrooms Matter: The Design of Virtual Classrooms Influences Gender Disparities in Computer Science Classes.” Computers & Education 57, no. 2 (2011): 1825–1835.

Computer Science Teachers Association 

S. Grover and R. Pea. “Computational Thinking and K–12: A Review of the State of the Field.” Educational Researcher 42, no. 1 (2013): 38–43.

J. Margolis et al. “Beyond Access: Broadening Participation in High School Computer Science.” ACM Inroads 3, no. 4 (2012): 72–78.

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A. St. John and A. G. Ramirez. Newton’s Football: The Science Behind America’s Game. New York: Ballantine Books, 2013.