At Colleges, Women Are Leaving Men in the Dust

Here’s a link to the full article, from today’s New York Times. It’s very much worth a read, and some thought.

Our professional interest in education started with our Kid’s Programming Language product. Our followon product is designed specifically for high school and university students. This interest led me to the article.

There are a few points which are directly relevant to what we’re doing with KPL and Phrogram, and I’ll start with those.

People outside of Computer Science education mostly have not heard of the “Computer Science Crisis” – but that’s a fair characterization of the fact that from 2000 to 2004, the percentage of incoming undergraduates indicating that they would major in CS declined by over 60 percent. The decline and the crisis is even deeper if one considers only female students: 0.3 percent of incoming women indicated an intent to study computer science. That’s zero point three percent. On the one hand, the article’s data might explain some of the decline in computer science. On the other hand, it demonstrates that computer science has a double problem: not only has interest in CS been declining across the sexes, but the demographic group which has most favored CS (men) has also been shrinking as part of the student population. I’ve admitted being an optimist. So this also implies one of the clear opportunities to address the Computer Science crisis (not to mention the unfortunate gender bias in software development jobs): make it interesting to girls. Fortunately, there is a lot happening now to address the computer science crisis and the gender bias, and these’ll be topics I focus on in this blog.

Another point relevant to KPL and Phrogram is the impact that video game addiction can have on one’s college education. My wife pointed out that the article wasn’t exactly fair on this point: surely there are other addictions which can have at least as much negative impact? Drinking, for instance? Clearly, any addiction is a bad thing – and probably it’s a smart relationship partner who sees one, calls us on it, and won’t accept it if we can’t change it? So, point taken, video game addiction deserves attention and awareness as do alchohol and drug and sex and food and nicotine and other addictions – and not just for college students. “Moderation in all things” somes to mind.

But given nearly-universal interest in computer and video games – this crosses gender lines very well, by the way – there is also an education opportunity in gaming. What better way to interest beginners in software design and development than to help them make their own games? KPL has already proven that this works, and we have mail from parents and teachers thanking us specifically because it does. Here’s a mail from just this week that proves the point, from Jeff Spirer in California:

“I am a technical consultant to a California K-8 charter school. The students have access to the internet for research.

“However their main endeavor is playing on-line games. In an effort to channel this interest to more educational pursuits I installed KPL1.1. I gave the students a brief explanation of programming principles and a demo on some simple graphical constructs. The response was overwhelming. Some students had simple games designed and programmed within a short period of time. Even the students that found the subject more difficult gained an appreciation of the rigorous logic required to produce results.”

Much more about this topic in the future – there are a bunch of really interesting things happening around the use of gaming in support of education.

There are many broader points raised in the article:

Isn’t it great to see women stepping up to the opportunity being presented? Doesn’t the clear success of the effort to support women’s education prove that we can successfully correct unfairness or bias in our educational system?

Is there really a “boy crisis” happening, or are we just misinterpreting the great success and progress for girls, which has not been matched by boys? This is a very important point, I think – since our actions in response are pretty likely to be bad ones if our perception of the situation is wrong in the first place.

What are the values, goals, examples and role models that our society provides to boys (and girls) as they grow up? The difference presented around planning or lack of planning – I’m sure it’s not as stark or as one-sided as presented in this article, but whether it is or not this point alone surely deserves some thought and attention?

Is there still more educational inequity for us to address based on racial and economic differences than based on gender differences?

Could parents and teacher and administrators and advisors do a better job of preparing incoming college students to deal with freedoms and responsibilities that a lot of them never encounter until they get to a freshman dorm?

There is increasing interest in the effectiveness of single-sex primary and secondary schools and classrooms – but it wasn’t long ago that many single-sex universities opened up to the other sex. Anyone have research and data on this point?

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