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Promoting access to computer science for girls

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Promoting access to computer science for girls

Earlier this month, CBS’s 60 Minutes highlighted the work of Code.org in expanding access to computer science opportunities for girls. The 60 Minutes piece drew public attention to the growing number of tech-related jobs across the country and the lack of women currently filling these positions. Despite the efforts of universities, non-profit organizations, and foundations to diversify the STEM workforce, the field of computer science is still dominated by white men and the number of female computer science majors has been on the decline.

The 60 Minutes special mainly focused on the work and reach of Code.org’s computer science initiative, though there are many organizations working to expand access to computer science to girls, low-income students, and students of color. Organizations like Girlstart, Techbridge, Black Girls Code, Girls Inc., and Girls Who Code focus on the benefits of providing a girl-centric experience in computer science and coding, often in afterschool programs. These programs provide the field with promising practices for building STEM identities and interest among girls that help to address the diversity issues in  the STEM workforce.

We need to expose all students to computer science earlier than middle school. But it will take more than early exposure to inspire young girls to pursue computer science careers. So what are the best strategies for engaging girls in computer science? Techbridge, an organization devoted to championing equity in STEM for all girls, released Changing the Game for Girls in STEM to share promising practices for promoting opportunities for girls in STEM. Changing the Game for Girls in STEM highlights two main strategies for doing this work:

Strategy #1: Design with diverse girls and communities in mind. The first step to designing inclusive programming for girls is creating culturally responsive and relevant programming. Starting at a young age, getting girls excited and interested in computer science is about creating a safe place to engage in creative problem solving. Programming should also incorporate  student driven community change into STEM learning opportunities.

Strategy #2: Strengthen the girl-centric ecosystem. Ensuring that girls are engaging with STEM at home, in school, and out of school is key to sustaining STEM engagement. This includes ensuring that parents are engaged and informed about STEM opportunities for their students and ensuring that girls have positive role models and mentors who break STEM stereotypes. Partnering with STEM industries to engage and train mentors is also key. To spark interest in STEM careers, girls need effective mentors that can show them that STEM professions can be a viable option for their futures’. 

Moving forward, the report says, further investment in programs and target communities is important for creating access and interest for girls in STEM fields and careers. Part of this investment is fostering in a collective impact strategy that engages a STEM learning ecosystem of community learning partners such as in-school, out-of-school, summer, informal learning institutions, and more. Continued exploration and rigorous evaluation of these programs is also central to continued quality improvement and ensuring long term investment in these programs.

Interested in incorporating these strategies into your program? Read the full report online today!

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