A recent article in the New York Times brought the gender disparity in coding to the attention of the Opinion Pages. Nitasha Tiku, an editor at Valleywag (Gawker’s blog about the technology industry), explores different ways to get girls into computer science classes at a young age–and how to keep them there.
Even though coding is a budding interest for many young people, the gender gap is getting bigger: “literacy rates for girls are dropping: last year, girls made up 18.5 percent of A.P. computer science test-takers nationwide, a slight decrease from the year before. In three states, no girls took the test at all. An abysmal 0.4 percent of girls entering college intend to major in computer science. And in 2013, women made up 14 percent of all computer science graduates — down from 36 percent in 1984.” One of the reasons this might be happening, Tiku suggests, is a lack of female role models in the classroom and in our collective imagination. The stereotype of the male coder playing video games in his basement is all too familiar, and there isn’t a female counterpart to him in pop culture. When girls are interested in coding, and stay in coding, it is helpful to have a personal relationship with an established female coder. To be sure, “many of the instructors, coding evangelists and students [Tiku] spoke with credited a female mentor who nudged them along.”
So how to reach young potential coders? It’s really simple, as Tiku suggests: go where they already are. Parents worried about the computer games (Minecraft, anyone?) that their children–boys and girls–are constantly playing can now get involved with a number of coding organizations that will teach kids to code through games and activities that they already participate in. This way, girls who are already interested in computer games can learn how they work and, the hope is, begin to create them.
This grass-roots approach seems to be working much better than the top-down approach used by Code.org–whose curriculum has millions of dollars in funding from Mark Zuckerberg, Amazon, Google, and Bill Gates behind it as well as the support of President Obama–which hasn’t helped to stem the tide of girls moving away from coding, as the numbers mentioned above show. Instead, camps and coding classes that focus on the computer skills that kids already like and are familiar with are proving to be the real routes by which young people (of both genders) come naturally to coding.
Here are a few New York City-based coding classes: