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Sex Differences In Computer Scores

Full-year credit exam: 91% boys vs 9% girls

Note [by originator of original message] the line "Girls are saying 'we can do these things but we don't want to.'" I was reminded of Farrell's section on the spending expectation gap in "The Myth of Male Power" and will forward the citation next so you can compare.

This article also incl a graph showing the enormous gap between M and F in tech ed: Half year credit exam for computer sci: 83% boys vs 17% girls; full-year credit exam: 91% boys vs 9% girls. And this despite the fact that there are 1.8 million more women than men studying in college today in the US!

---Forwarded Article--- GIRLS TURNED OFF BY COMPUTER CULTURE (The Philadelphia Inquirer, April 4, 2000)

Their interest must be engendered, a study says, for their benefit and that of the labor force


The 10 students in Wayne Snover's Advanced Placement computer-science class at Central High School in Philadelphia have something in common: They all are male.

The composition of Snover's class in the coed school is hardly unusual. It is practically the norm. A national report from the American Association of University Women scheduled to be released today says girls account for only 17 percent of high school students who take the College Board's Advanced Placement exam in computer science to seek college credit. In addition, it says, women earn only 28% of the bachelor's degrees in computer science, and make up only 20% of the information-technology professionals.

The report "Tech-Savvy: Educating Girls in the New Computer Age," contends that the male-dominated computer culture must change in order to attract girls and women to technology.

Unless that happens, the nation's shortage of skilled hightech workers will continue, and women will lose out on opportunities for high-paying high-tech jobs. "We are used to hearing about math phobia for girls," said Pamela Haag, director of research for the AAUW Educational Foundation. "But the girls are not anxious or phobic about technology. They are disinterested in the computer culture.... Girls are saying, 'We can do these things but we don't want to."

Sherry Turkle, prof of science at MIT who was cochair of the commission that wrote the report, said girls' criticism of the computer culture should be taken seriously.

Female students said they were turned off by violent computer games and felt that the computer worl was dominated by adolescent males cent of the high school students who take the College Board's Advanced Placement exam in computer science to seek college credit. In addition, it says, women earn only 28 percent of the bachelor's degrees in computer science, and make up only 20 percent of informaon-technology professionals. The report, "Tech-Savvy: Educating Girls m the New Computer Age," contends that the male-dominated computer culture must change in order to attract girls and males. Girls said they used computers to communicate to perform specific tasks, while boys had underdoveloped social skills and used computers to play games and "to fool around."

Turkle said: "Instead of trying to make girls fit into the existing computer culture, the computer culture must become more inviting for girls."

Girls and women cannot settle for being consumers of technology, the report said. They must be prepared to become designers and creators if they are going to fully participate and shape the computer age.

The foundation appointed the commission two years ago to examine the connections among technology, gender and teacher education. The association's leadership said statistics showed that few girls and women were preparing for the top high-tech careers, which could widen the earnings gap between men and women. They also noted that increasing the numbers of women earning degrees in computer science and related fields would go a long way toward solving the nation's shortage of trained information-technology workers. The commission members included researchers as well as educators, journalists and entrepreneurs. They were directed to explore the differences between how boys and girls accepted technology and were asked to develop recommendations to ensure greater equity in the classroom. In addition to reviewing existing research, the panel drew on responses from 900 teachers who participated in an online survey and gathered comments from 70 middle school and high school students who participated in focus groups on technology in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. Though the female students who were interviewed said they were not told directly that they were not competent in technology, and were not deterred from taking computer classes, that message was transmitted to them in subtle ways. When asked to describe a person who was really good with computers, they described a man.

In a 1997 survey of 652 college- bound high school students in Boston, California's Silicon Valley, and Austin, Texas, 50 percent of both the male and female students said the field of computer science was "geared toward men." The stereotype of computer science was "masculine and negative," according to the 1997 survey. That survey was conducted for the Garnett Foundation, a California organization that promotes women in computing professions. Today's report also noted: "Girls outnumbered boys only in their enrollment in word-processing classes, arguably the 1990s version of typing."

The commission concluded that girls' interest in technology should be nurtured from an early age through activities such as after-school computer clubs because l boys are given more opportunities to master technology. The report found that boys are more likely to have their own computers--often in their bedrooms. Parents are more likely to send sons to computer camps. Boys are allowed to tinker with the machines. And even the time boys spend playing computer games makes them more confident users of technology.

And because girls know little about the range of careers that involve technology, they cling to the stereotype that computer careers are tedious, unchallenging, antisocial, and focused on materialism. One female student quoted in the study labeled tech jobs "a waste of intelligence."

The commission report found this lack of understanding deeply troubling and concluded that students needed to be better educated about the range of careers that use technology. Increasing the number of female students who take computer-science courses is important. But the report also noted that as computing becomes integral to such disciplines as architecture and medicine, students may find their way to technology through these disciplines. The report says software games should be developed so that girls will have the same opportunities to gain mastery as boys. Most games, the commission said, are made by men for men and boys. Commissioners found that girls were turned off by the violence and aggression. And they reported that much of the software designed for girls focused on makeup, clothes. and shopping, and reinforced traditional gender roles.

"Girls and boys may buy the software that is available," Haag said. "But when girls are given the opportunity to say ideally what they want, they gravitate toward different kinds of games." She said girls say they want rich narratives, engaging characters, opportunities to design or create within games, and strategy and skill requirements that go beyond blasting other characters.

Even some of the educational software used in schools caters to boys. The report said that only 12 percent of the gender-identifiable characters in a widely used elementary school math program were female, and those characters played passive roles. ; Haag said that the AAUW Educational Foundation was considering creating a software award similar to the American Library Association's annual Caldecott Award, which recognizes excellence in children's picture books. She said the foundation planned follow-up research. "There are a lot of recommendations in the report that we hope get integrated into the discussion about technology in the schools," Haag said.

Snover, the computer science teacher at Central High School in Philadelphia, said some conversations had begun already. He attended a six-day workshop for Advanced Placement computer-science teachers at Carnegie Mellon University last summer. The program covered ways to increase the numher of female students taking Advanced Placement computer-programming classes.

He and other teachers at Central are trying to encourage more female students to take the computer- science electives that are prerequisites for Advanced Placement courses. At a "back-to-school" night in the fall, Snover told parents about the Carnegie Mellon program and discussed the range of career opportunities.

"If I were to get 5 to 10 girls in class in the fall, I would be ecstatic," he said.

Lenore Blum, the distinguished career professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon, has been involved in gender-equity research around math and technology for 30 years. She was not surprised to learn of the report's findings. Even though parents know that their daughters must be prepared for ca- reers that involve technology, they are still more likely to encourage their sons to pursue technology, she said.

"I think they let the boys work in the basement with the rocket sets," she said. "And they don't give the girls the opportunity to take the family computer apart."

Carnegie Mellon is in the forefront of attracting women to technology, and there, at least, things may be improving. Blum noted that of the 120 freshman computer-science majors who entered Carnegie Mellon in September, 49 were women. And she thinks it is likely that females could; account for nearly half the students this fall.

Said Blum: "I think the culture is changing already."