Public education and creative programs are inspiring girls and minorities to dive into computer science like never before.
When we turn on a faucet to wash our dishes, we generally don’t think about the engineers who make dams or the hydrologists who ensure our water is clean and clear. Water flows freely from the spout then down the drain. Most of us are oblivious to the science of it all.
The same could be said for our technology, which enriches our lives through everything from entertainment and education to health care and economics.
Like running water, we assume technology will run freely too. But behind every cool new app or 3D printer are the humans who build code. Coders, or programmers, are the key bridge between human experience and technology.
They are the creative thinkers and problem solvers who build the systems that move our world forward. Coders are in high demand and yet their numbers are greatly lacking.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, by 2020 there will be 1.4 million computing jobs in the U.S. and only 400,000 computer science students. Recent data show less than 2.4 percent of college students graduating with a degree in computer science. The gap is largest when we look at the numbers of women. Girls make up less than 12 percent of this projected student body.
Every year the number of future female coders continues to drop. In the 2013 College Board report of high school students taking Advanced Placement (AP) classes, the number of girls taking computer science was less than 0.3 percent. In state-specific data, not one female student took the AP Computer Science exam in Mississippi or Montana.
“Girls’ interest in technology degrees and careers is declining and the representation of women in the tech industry is low,” said Dr. Renee Wittemyer, Intel’s Director of Social Innovation and lead researcher of MakeHers: Engaging Girls and Women in Technology Through Making, Creating, and Inventing.
“Enabling girls and women to participate in making expands the STEM talent pool, fueling competition and innovation, and ultimately strengthening the global economy,” she said.
Results of the Intel MakeHers Report found that women’s and girls’ engagement in making or coding is a natural entry for girls into technology that triggers a succession of important social and economic benefits.
Broader participation in the maker movement and computer science and engineering fields stimulates competition and innovation, leading to more efficient products and services, and promoting economic resilience and progress.
There is great potential to activate aspiring by introducing maker and coding activities into existing STEM programs, such as informal after-school clubs and groups focused on girls and underrepresented minorities. Educators and computer science leaders are creating new, inspiring ways to get girls coding.
Code.org is a global movement to bring more computer science to the classrooms. Their mission is to redefine curricula so coding is taught alongside writing and mathematics. Their model is a simple, straightforward training that shows that anyone can learn the basics.
Since launching in 2013, this non-profit has reached over 15 million students with their Hour of Code tutorials.
Helping to close the gender and minority gap is the national non-profit program Girlswhocode.com. They encourage diversity through online and live clubs, engaging and empowering girls and all kids to pursue scientific paths. Girls Who Code aims to provide computer science education and exposure to 1 million young women by 2020.
Founder Reshma Saujani said, “This is more than just a program. It’s a movement.”
ThoughtSTEM offers summer and after school programs for kids from 3rd to 12th grade. Started by tutors and PhDs, they have created lessons based on the wildly popular game Minecraft.
Black Girls Code hosts “hackathons” where students compete in teams to figure out challenges by building apps. Founder Kimberly Bryant is dedicated to creating new opportunities and support for young and pre-teen girls of color.
Coder Dojo Girls is a free, global network that gives girls a safe and fun environment, and provides volunteers with the tools and structure to start their own local programming clubs. They host the Coolest Project awards where kids ages seven to 17 can collaborate and compete each year.
Common Sense Media is a resource for games and activities designed to encourage age-appropriate coding skills. The list is given thorough reviews and ratings by parents and professionals. A recently popular game for girls is Code with Anna and Elsa.
My Robot Friend is a LeapFrog app that helps elementary-aged kids start thinking and making decisions like coders with simple yet entertaining games.
For teens ready for more of a challenge, there are apps like Light-bot, designed to engage young minds that thrive on puzzles and challenges.
The decline is tech training is a major concern for employers, so companies are funding programs and initiatives to close the gender gap between education and opportunity.
Big or small, private or public — organizations must work together to ensure a future workforce that is diverse, equal, and above all, innovative. Programs like She Will Connect and the film Girl Rising are bringing attention to these issues on a global scale.
Intel’s Diversity Initiative exemplifies the growing dedication to bring equality and diversity to STEM.
“Intel will continue to take action to engage and inspire girls and women to participate in computer science and engineering fields through hands on, applied maker activities,” said Aysegul Ildeniz, vice president of Intel’s New Devices Group and general manager of Strategy and Business Development.