GirlDev Laurence Bradford: The Importance of Early Impact

I have always believed that the earlier students have exposure to Computer Science (CS) and related technologies, the better. Not only in terms of absorbing the knowledge, but also in applying it to their future — from college major decisions to career choices. That’s one of the reasons I decided to volunteer at a recent TechGirlz event, to first-handedly take part in passing down computer-related knowledge to those younger than I.

Even though awareness of diversity problems in tech are becoming more acknowledged, not a whole lot is happening in our schools to change the equation. This makes the role organizations like TechGirlz play even more important in alleviating the gender gap in tech.

Girls Underperform Boys in Math and Science — But Not Throughout the World

Multiple studies have confirmed that, at least in the U.S., middle school and high school boys outperform girls in science and math.

Curiously, this is a trend that does not occur throughout the world. For example, a study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that 15-year-old girls around the world outperform boys in scienceexcept for in the United States, Britain and Canada. As a result, the U.S. Department of Education has concluded that, “improving girls’ beliefs about their abilities could alter their choices and performance…particularly as they move out of elementary school and into middle and high school.”

Yes, the values and beliefs we knowingly, and unknowingly, impart on our girls are important. And clearly shape how they conceive of their abilities. However, more than a needed mindset shift, there also needs to be more classroom instruction — particularly when it comes to CS.

Computer Science Statistics in the Classroom

It has been estimated that a dismal 10 percent of K-12 schools in the U.S. teach computer science. Looking at AP Computer Science, which is much easier to measure, in 2013 only 29,555 students in the U.S. took the AP examination. And of that, only 18.55 percent were female. In fact, this figure is lower than in 2012, which was 18.7 percent. Perhaps even more shocking, in 2013 no female students took the AP CS exam in Mississippi, Montana, or Wyoming.

Girls Just as Capable as Boys at Learning STEM Skills

Regardless of which study you turn to, the message remains constant: Girls are just as capable as boys in learning math, science and of course computer science. Unfortunately, societal messages in the U.S. specifically have led girls entering middle school and high school to believe otherwise.

This is why it is paramount to change the message before it’s too late.

Of course, I must add that it’s never too late to learn something new. And we should never give up hope on these girls once they enter college or beyond.

I began teaching myself basic HTML at 22 years old. Fast forward to today, and I am able to build my own web applications. Nonetheless, the sooner the better. And I constantly wonder how my life would have been different if I had any sort of programming exposure early on.

Organizations like TechGirlz are Important

While we are braced with this knowledge and know the facts, public and private schools across the U.S. are still slow to respond. We will have to wait and see if the 2014 figures differ from 2013. Nonetheless, for all of the reasons highlighted above, organizations like TechGirlz are important. Such organizations intervene and attempt to make an impact on girls before entering high school and of course college. All with the hope that a few paths may be altered and of course build the confidence that is lacking in our girls.

Learning programming-related skills and technologies has many benefits: namely, problem solving and logical thinking. Both of these skills can be applied to a multitude of fields and disciplines, beyond coding a mobile app or a website.

I’ve heard arguments in the past claiming that not everyone is supposed to be the next Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg. But that’s not what these organizations are trying to achieve. Instead, they are attempting to instill confidence, introduce real-world problem solving and invite girls to have a hand at technologies they may never get to try in their middle school or high school classroom.

And if any girl wishes to pursue programming or a technology field later in life — great. And if not, there are still valuable takeaways that can be applied in other areas.

 About Laurence Bradford

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After spending nearly a year and a half living, working, and traveling in East Asia, Laurence Bradford returned back to the U.S. after discovering a passion for front-end web development. Today she manages the site and works as a front-end developer. Find her on Twitter @lebdev.