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posted by janrinok on Saturday June 07 2014, @05:58PM   Printer-friendly
from the food-for-thought dept.

A huge nationwide push is underway, funded by the nonprofit's corporate and billionaire donors, from Amazon and Google to Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, to introduce American schoolchildren to coding and to redefine it as a basic skill to be learned alongside the three R's.'s curriculum has been adopted by 20,000 teachers from kindergarten to 12th grade. But if coding is the new lingua franca, literacy rates for girls are dropping: Last year, girls made up 18.5 percent of A.P. computer science test-takers nationwide, a slight decrease from the year before. In three states, no girls took the test at all. An abysmal 0.4 percent of girls entering college intend to major in computer science [PDF]. And in 2013, women made up 14 percent of all computer science graduates down from 36 percent in 1984. The imbalance persists in the tech industry. Just this week, Google released data showing that women account for just 17 percent of its tech employees.

The problem is not only getting girls to computer class, but keeping them there.

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  • (Score: 5, Insightful) by Grishnakh on Saturday June 07 2014, @06:37PM

    by Grishnakh (2831) on Saturday June 07 2014, @06:37PM (#52691)

    It IS a problem, for various reasons. Remember, programming used to be considered a woman's job. The problem with all this, however, is that they aren't looking at the roots of the problem in our very culture, so they're not going to be successful in fixing it with these initiatives. Why do girls lose interest in it? They think that by pushing them into it in school they'll stay interested, and that simply isn't the case; there's deeper issues there.

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  • (Score: 2) by Oligonicella on Saturday June 07 2014, @07:02PM

    by Oligonicella (4169) on Saturday June 07 2014, @07:02PM (#52713)

    When exactly was it considered a woman's job? I've been involved in the field for quite a while and I don't recall that.

    • (Score: 5, Informative) by Grishnakh on Saturday June 07 2014, @07:28PM

      by Grishnakh (2831) on Saturday June 07 2014, @07:28PM (#52730)

      You're probably not old enough to remember it. It was before the 60s.

      • (Score: 2) by jimshatt on Saturday June 07 2014, @07:47PM

        by jimshatt (978) on Saturday June 07 2014, @07:47PM (#52738) Journal
        You mean when all the men were out fighting wars?
        • (Score: 3, Informative) by VLM on Sunday June 08 2014, @11:38AM

          by VLM (445) on Sunday June 08 2014, @11:38AM (#52920)

          A computer at one point was a human female who basically split off from the linear fixed point accounting disciplines to run nonlinear floating point numerical integrations and the like by hand. So you have a team of 10 women running a disk method integration or each calculating a portion of a ballistics table for artillery or crypto grunt work or whatever. At a microscopically higher level you have the (mostly women) who coordinated and Q/A that work. You'd put the "programmers" at a microscopically higher level.

          At a level slightly above bear furs and baling wire you had the same women shuffling punch cards into unit record equipment, much like their counterparts in accounting.

          Its interesting from a tech perspective just how little tech the world required very recently. My mom made some beer money in the '60s hand calculating and hand typing paychecks for a major national railroad. As recently as the very early 90s as a starving student I worked for a very small business where my paychecks (and the other three guys) were calculated and generated by hand, ink pen on paper. I'm sure this sounds unimaginable to modern ears, like the days before indoor plumbing. But yeah, as recently as just a couple decades ago, being able to add and subtract fixed point numbers by hand was a real vocational skill people were paid to do.

          • (Score: 2) by jimshatt on Sunday June 08 2014, @10:11PM

            by jimshatt (978) on Sunday June 08 2014, @10:11PM (#53046) Journal
            That's really interesting, thanks. I remember, as a kid (maybe 6 or 7), hearing a radio broadcast of some calculation that was done both by hand and by computer and comparing the speed and accuracy of the result. We had a ZX-81 at home which I was sometimes playing with (typing over simple programs from books or stuff my dad wrote (on stacks of grid paper)), and I was really struck by a feeling of "yes of course the computer is better! even I know that!"
      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 07 2014, @07:57PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 07 2014, @07:57PM (#52742)

        Before the 60s? Do you mean the 50s when there were only a handful of mainframes world?

        Back when mainframes were custom-built monsters with tube logic, they didn't even have operating systems and were programmed by the scientists who used them, mostly men.

        • (Score: 1, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 08 2014, @06:53AM

          by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 08 2014, @06:53AM (#52887)

          and were programmed by the scientists who used them, mostly men.

          Those were the analysts. They drew flowcharts.

          The programmers (a fair mixture of men and women) read the flowcharts and wrote programs (in assembly) to implement them.

          Then coders (almost all women) read the programs and translated them symbolic opcodes and their operands / addressing modes into a raw stream of numbers (in hex). Finally, keypunch operators (also almost all women) imprinted those streams of numbers onto paper tape or punch cards (or later on, keyed them into incremental magtape writers).

          The nomeclature of computing jobs has changed a lot in the last half century...

  • (Score: 5, Insightful) by frojack on Saturday June 07 2014, @07:09PM

    by frojack (1554) on Saturday June 07 2014, @07:09PM (#52719) Journal

    Such as WHAT deeper issues?

    Its easy to make pronouncements, its a little bit harder to start actual enrollment drives. And its harder still to find out why women prefer nursing, teaching, law careers, accountancies and running small businesses, over programming.

    The hardest part of all is to come up with a convincing reason that anyone should take any interest in changing this situation and luring women into careers they don't want.

    What deeper issues?

    No, you are mistaken. I've always had this sig.
    • (Score: 4, Interesting) by Grishnakh on Saturday June 07 2014, @07:13PM

      by Grishnakh (2831) on Saturday June 07 2014, @07:13PM (#52721)

      Hey, I don't have all the answers. I just know that what they're doing is superficial. I think there's probably many deeper issues.

      One of them was described by another poster here: that IT workers are not valued, work too many hours for too little pay, and have no job security. If you're really smart, there's better careers out there, such as law, accounting, running small businesses, and of course medicine. This isn't something that can be fixed, since it's entirely under the control of industry, and they can't be forced to change how they treat white-collar workers.

      • (Score: 2, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 08 2014, @12:22AM

        by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 08 2014, @12:22AM (#52803)

        I'll help you out a bit here, a certain former board-member of SAP referred to a study (sorry, gotta look for yourself) of children's interest in STEM subjects during one of his lectures.

        Until the age of 6-7, both genders were equally interested and until 15 the divide turned to what we usually are expecting.
        He suggested that school-teachers are to blame along the lines of: "Oh no, that's not a 'girly' thing to do," and "But boys are expected to XYZ;" which makes a lot of sense (e.g. composition of teachers backgrounds suggests that they're usually more "traditional").

        TL;DR: It's difficult to weed out chauvinistic tendencies (also in the education system).

        • (Score: 2, Interesting) by bzipitidoo on Sunday June 08 2014, @04:47AM

          by bzipitidoo (4388) on Sunday June 08 2014, @04:47AM (#52861) Journal

          We've been pounding on this gender imbalance issue for decades, and we still don't really know why it exists. Attempting to fix the problem when we don't know what it is, or even if it is a problem, is folly. If being homosexual is such a problem, why hasn't evolution weeded out all such tendencies? Maybe because there's an optimum level of homosexuality for a population of animals? Maybe the population as a whole is more fit for survival if a few members are homosexual, because that's more diversity? A virulent STD won't wipe out everyone if a few members behave differently?

          A complication is that it's not Politically Correct to consider whether there is an innate difference in brains that make boys more likely to become interested in programming. Note I don't say that this in any way makes girls inferior. Different is not inferior, though of course different does mean better at some things and worse at other things. Why are more women into teaching, nursing, and dancing? Most men aren't as good at those jobs? Maybe, and that's okay. But somehow it's not okay for women to be worse at programming, so we spend time looking at social factors. If it turns out that the imbalance is a result of fundamental differences in brain wiring, and we continue to refuse to consider that, we're wasting our time.

          • (Score: 3, Informative) by Grishnakh on Monday June 09 2014, @04:26PM

            by Grishnakh (2831) on Monday June 09 2014, @04:26PM (#53286)

            Why are more women into teaching, nursing, and dancing? Most men aren't as good at those jobs?

            Dancing is not a job, except in a very few rare cases, and also for strip clubs. The number of women (or men) employed as non-strip-club dancers is ridiculously tiny, probably even less than the number of people employed as full-time actors. The number of strip-club dancers inflates it a lot, but women don't go into that job because they like dancing; they go into that job because they're desperate for cash and the job pays a lot better than McDonald's.

            Women traditionally went into teaching and nursing because those were the only "respectable" jobs allowed for them. (There were a few more too, such as telephone operators.) They were not allowed to go into most other jobs. No one would see a woman doctor. No one would hire a woman manager or engineer. That's changed a lot these days; lots of smart women, who in the past would have gone into nursing, skip that and become doctors now, and the nursing industry is hurting as a result (the fact that hospitals refuse to increase pay for nurses doesn't help). Why does anyone go into nursing these days in fact? Mainly because the educational requirements are much less (you can just go to community college, which is dirt cheap; can't do that if you want to be an MD), and the working hours are less, since it's an hourly job. So women who are already single mothers or don't want to or can't invest the necessary time and money to go through med school instead and then spend lots of hours in residency and then as a staff doctor can go into nursing instead, which is regular 9-5 job.

            As for teaching, I've met a couple of teachers within the last year (both female), and neither of them chose the profession, they were pushed into it by happenstance. With one, I can't remember what she was doing before, but she started as a substitute teacher because she needed a job, and from there took some classes, got a certificate, and became a kindergarten teacher. The other one had a liberal-arts degree of some kind, and her career in journalism (I think, something like that) wasn't doing that great because that profession isn't so hot these days, the public school system was strongly recruiting, and recruited her to be a high school math teacher, even though she had no degree in math at all. She told me some horror stories about one of her older male coworkers (another math teacher) who was really quite incompetent at basic math. Her knowledge wasn't that great either; with my EE background and the math that entails (which admittedly, is about 15 years in the past now) I could tell she was competent with the trig she taught, but probably wouldn't be able to handle much higher without retraining, but it sounded like she was far more competent than the other math teachers she worked with. So basically, it all boiled down to: positions for these jobs were open, they paid decently, the barriers to entry were very low (don't need to know any math to be a math teacher!!), the schools were recruiting, and these women needed jobs.

            Finally, I really question the whole "teaching is dominated by women" assumption. I don't think it's necessarily true any more. Even 20 years ago when I was in public school, there seemed to be a pretty equal ratio of female and male teachers. It's not like nursing, which is still dominated by women (but there are a lot more men in it these days, just not an equal ratio).

        • (Score: 2) by BasilBrush on Sunday June 08 2014, @07:34PM

          by BasilBrush (3994) on Sunday June 08 2014, @07:34PM (#53010)

          The theory that gender differences come from gender stereotypes in education is just plain false, and the experimental data proves it. Give human toys to monkeys, and the male monkeys go for the tonka toys and the females go for the cuddly dolls.


          Hurrah! Quoting works now!