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Girls and Computers

I love computers. I always have. When I was pretty little, I even remember drafting editions of a newspaper on Word (the 97 version!). I loved even the most rudimentary paint program, and the Internet was a continual source of amusement and information. Now, I’m extremely Web-connected. Like most teenagers of this era, I really couldn’t live without a computer or Internet connection anymore.

I was recently reading the National Council for Research on Women’s Balancing the Equation: Where Are Women and Girls in Science, Engineering, and Technology? (2001), a really cool publication that presents data about how women are doing in the sciences, from kindergarten to industry work. The research is a little bit old, but it’s still a great, really enlightening report. As I was reading, I was surprised to see the statistic that only 20% of students taking AP computer science are female, and this huge gender gap is attributed to the fact that girls feel uncomfortable in the “boyish” computer sciences.

This piece of information really shocked me. Computers were always a big presence in my life, and I always felt in my element working on them. I first learned how to use one in preschool. I remember working on the paint program pretty often and getting annoyed when my turn was over. Throughout elementary school, we had computer classes once a week, and my entire class looked forward to our time on the computer, even if we had to work on school stuff. Most of us had computers at home when we were younger, so we all felt extremely comfortable online. Once we got into the middle school years, we did more heavy-duty work on the computers at school. Everyone in my class had a PC or Mac at home, so we all felt relaxed with computers, especially when laptops became a popular school item. Now in high school, a lot of girls come from a no-computer background, but most of my classmates feel comfortable with them.

Balancing the Equation not only contains information and statistics about women and girls in the sciences, but also gives suggestions on how to fix the inequalities that persist. One of the solutions given to stop girls from feeling shy when it comes to computers is to have girls-only computer labs.

In my elementary and middle school, we were separated by gender in most classes until graduation. As a result, I was only in a computer lab with boys when we were younger, and the work wasn’t terribly difficult or intimidating in any way.

If my classes had been coed in middle school and I had been in a computer lab with boys, would I feel the same way towards computers as I do now? Would I feel so comfortable with them? Would I have ever taught myself basic HTML and Flash? Would my friends dislike computers?

It’s an interesting slew of questions. I just hope that upcoming generations of girls won’t have to deal with them.




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