Don’t be afraid to teach girls how to code

Some say the future is female. And many also say that the language of the future is code. So, how do we connect these two?

This notion that the tech world is a man’s world has been the prevalent narrative over decades, and it is only changing slowly. A meta-study published recently showed that contrary to popular belief, which is that boys perform better in ICT literacy (information and communication technology), girls outperformed boys throughout the K-12 education level. The gender gap is not as severe as we predicted.

But women’s participation in tech professions isn’t increasing. Research conducted by Accenture shows that their share in computing, enrollment in AP computer science exams and even the rate of women graduating from computing is decreasing (from 37% to 18% in 35 years). But there are 2.4 million unfilled computing jobs in the US. This number is rising. Computing skills are the most wanted skills in the US job market.

Getting more women into computing jobs wouldn’t only solve this problem, it would also help them, and the US economy. If the current trend persists, by 2025, women will only hold 1 in 5 computing jobs in the country. If we encourage women to join this industry (ideally triple their numbers), they could increase their cumulative earnings by $299 billion over the next 10 years. Since women are statistically stricken by poverty more often than men, this is a very relevant thing to keep in mind.

So, how do we do this?

A report conducted by Girls Who Code, an initiative focused on educating girls and closing the gender gap in computing, suggests that the key mission is to spark interest in coding while girls are still in junior high school (or middle school, gymnasium). Then, it is to be sustained throughout high school, during which it is often lost. Lastly, girls should also be encouraged to take up a more computer-science oriented curriculum in college.

Do you see a pattern? Appropriate education.

When it was my time to decide what I wanted to do in life, I weighed my options based on where my talents laid. I was good at math and English, so I went on to study business, a bridge between humanities and sciences. But today, I see children having so many more options —particularly, to be creators of technology and to design and execute things unthinkable to us a mere few years ago. So, I have made it my mission to empower these children to explore the opportunities my generation never got. And I am not alone.

Reshma Saujani, the founder of Girls Who Code, explained her take on the root of the computing gender gap. Her conclusion? We’re raising girls to be perfect, while we’re raising boys to be risk-takers. In studies performed at schools, girls who outperformed boys were more likely to give up when faced with a challenge, scared by the prospect of imperfection. Boys were excited by the challenge. This difference in attitude also shows later in adulthood. Men apply to jobs even if they only match 60% of the listed requirements. Women apply if they match 100% of the requirements. Men are risk-takers, women are perfectionists.

Saujani says she has found the ideal solution to the discrepancy: coding. And I have to agree. In her classes and Robo Wunderkind classes as well, we clearly see that the trial-and-error nature of coding is the perfect way to teach girls (and boys) how to fail, and then to try again until they get it right. Coding requires imperfection and perseverance. Furthermore, code doesn’t need to be perfect — it needs to work.

85% of consumer purchases are made by women. Women also use social media more than men. So why aren’t we building the web by the same numbers?

Whether or not a child who learns to code will eventually become a programmer is irrelevant. The ‘I can do it’ approach they take away from coding and Robo Wunderkind classes will be of great use to them in any profession and sphere of life.

I had to learn this the hard way. Kids today don’t have to. We can teach them through fun play — and code.

CEO & co-founder of Robo Wunderkind, LSE-graduate, STEM education enthusiast, advocate for more women in tech.

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