One Small Step For Google, One Giant Leap For Empowering Girls To Code

With Google's $1 million backing and partnerships with well-known coding schools, girls have a better chance to break the tech ceiling.

Less than 1% of women going to college plan to major in computer science, according to the American Association of University Women. Those are bleak numbers.

What will prompt more women to get into coding? The first step: paying teachers to recruit girls to take coding classes.

With $1 million in funding from Google's Made With Code initiative, nonprofit DonorsChoose.org is rewarding teachers with money when they get four or more female students to complete a coding class online.

The money is given toward school projects or supplies--everything from new laptops to class field trips--depending on a teacher's need. "Think of it as an altruistic performance bonus," says Charles Best, founder and CEO of DonorsChoose.

Since it launched in 2000, the organization has acted as a Kickstarter for public school teachers, offering them funding for projects. Now with financial backing from Google, it's partnering with Codecademy and Khan Academy, both of which offer online coding classes.

The initiative has the ambitious goal of doubling the amount of high school girls studying computer science. Then again, the precedent isn't all that high. Only 19% of students who took the Advanced Placement Computer Science A exam in 2013 were women, according to the College Board . Since the initiative launched in April, more than 2,550 female high school students have completed a coding course through the program.

Promoting Girl Power

Melissa Sak, who teaches 10th-grade English at the Barack Obama Green Charter School in Plainfield, New Jersey, convinced six female students she'd been supervising on the yearbook to enroll in Codecademy's JavaScript class. Sak sees the gender divide in computer science every day with her students.

Her school takes part in another tech education program called MOUSE squad, which trains students in technology so they can help teachers troubleshoot tech issues. The problem? No girls participate in her school's MOUSE squad.

Last spring, Sak, who also runs the school's yearbook and manages the computer lab, received an interesting proposition in her email inbox. If she recruited four of her female students to complete an online coding class, DonorsChoose would give her $500 to spend toward the school, and each girl would also get $125 toward a project of her choosing. That means for every four girls who participate, a teacher is given $1,000 in total to spend on projects or supplies for students.

"I thought: through this opportunity, let me create the female version of the MOUSE squad," she says. "There are not a lot of opportunities that are female-centric."

Whether the program will help solve the gender gap in computer science remains to be seen. At least, Google is hooking up teachers badly in need of more funding with a bit of cash. "We could really use some updated tech equipment," says Sak.

[Image: Flickr user Jennifer Morrow]

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3 Comments

  • nealr

    "...if you provided context for that statistic, such as the percent of men or total students, or the percent of jobs in the market, that opening ["Less than 1% of women going to college plan to major in computer science"] would be more informative."

    Good point JFUSION. Of course you're assuming the primary point of the article was to be informative rather than, say, inflammatory.

    Another point: If I said that less than one percent of those who clean up hazardous radioactive waste are women, would the response be "gee, we need to bribe more women into learning how to clean up radioactive waste" simply because it pays more than the average job?

    Of course not. Similarly, the reason there are so few women coders is that they have better ways of spending their lives. I, for one, am grateful for that.

  • Cameo Brown

    As a female in the computer science major, I have to say that you're wrong. Ever day I deal with the stereotype that coding isn't for girls. When I'm in a group, I get no work because they don't believe I can do it. And don't even get me started on all the "Really?" Comments that I receive when talking about what I go to school for.

    Coding isn't just for boys, but society teaches us that girls should be doing nursing or teaching or secretarial work. Boys do hardware and software. I think this is a great program that encourages girls to step out of the stereotype they grew up in and try something that might interest them.

  • jfusion

    Thank you for the article. This move by Google is indeed very promising.

    "Less than 1% of women going to college plan to major in computer science" -- if you provided context for that statistic, such as the percent of men or total students, or the percent of jobs in the market, that opening would be more informative.