Too few girls and too few minorities are enrolled in technology classes, say educators.
“It’s a slow process interesting students who aren’t comfortable with tech,” said Michael Foley, vice president of the Syracuse Teachers Association.
The College Board’s Advanced Placement Program collects data on advanced placement exam participation, performance and volume each year. The A.P.’s report on score data by total and ethnic group shows that in New York computer science stands out for its lack of diversity.
Consider these statistics from the A.P report and the National Center for Women in Information Technology:
- In 2013, only six American Indian, 68 black and 22 Mexican students compared to 914 white students took the computer science exam.
- About 80 percent fewer girls took the computer science exam than boys in New York.
- Women are earning 57 percent of all undergrad degrees, but only 18 percent of computer and information science degrees, according to the national center.
- Out of all A.P. computer science test-takers, only 19 percent were women, the national center reports.
- The push to get more diversity in technology courses comes at a time where only 3,249 high schools in the United States offer A.P. computer science courses.
In Syracuse, advocates are trying three things to get more diversity in the classroom. They’re fostering partnerships, addressing misconceptions with the tech industry and rewriting the definition of technology education.
Different organizations like the National Society of Black Engineers are helping get a more diverse student population involved in STEM: science, technology, engineering and math education.
Educators say the society isn’t an exclusive club. “It pushes all minority groups to get involved and take technology courses,” said Foley, the teachers’ association vice president.
Teachers are also looking to the International Technology Education Association for resources to promote technological literacy for every student. Foley said he hopes this will ultimately help get Syracuse’s high minority population in the technology classroom.
Also in the district, Project Lead The Way is a national nonprofit provider of K-12 STEM programs schools are using. Nottingham and Corcoran high schools have embraced the program’s engineering and design course.
Getting more women in tech education is a priority at the college level, experts say. Recruiters are trying to break down the stereotypes associated with technology.
“We know diversity drives innovation – we’re constantly thinking about this,” said Dori Farah, a supporter of women in technology as well as the graduate recruitment manager at Syracuse University’s iSchool. By putting female role models in front of high school-aged students, she said, “They’ll see someone close in age to them in tech and believe in the possibilities.”
She added: “Girls in middle school and high school tend to confuse ability with experience. The reality is technology is completely learnable and women are actually sometimes better suited than men.”
Researchers say science and technology should not be defined as completely different things. Often technology, experts say, is the product of scientific discovery.
“Young scientists are always inventing something and making things possible,” said Cathryn Newton, co-founder of Syracuse University’s Women in Science and Engineering Program. Getting people to think of technology less complexly, she said, will get a more diverse group of students interested. “As children, we all made things like mud pies for example,” said Newton. “We are born to make new combinations – that’s what technology offers.”
Educators recognize that a technology course may make students feel out of their comfort zone, but in reality they’re learning technology every day. “When you’re Photoshopping images, doing something new with your cell phone, trying to think how you can break the ice on your car – we’re thinking like scientists and technologists,” said Newton.
(Hannah McDonald is a senior majoring in broadcast and digital journalism with a minor in economics.)