Closing the Gender Gap in AP Computer Science

Possible increase of female representation

Jenna Edra

Staff Writer

According to a study in 2014 by the National Science Foundation, “women remain underrepresented in the science and engineering workforce, although to a lesser degree than in the past, with the greatest disparities occurring in engineering, computer science, and the physical sciences.” With only 6 girls out of 28 students in fourth period and 11 girls out of 36 students in sixth period, American’s AP Computer Science classes simulate part of this disparity in the education that can lead students to the related workforce, like a precursor.

“There’s a big push nationwide and here in Fremont to get as many girls involved in STEM–science, technology, engineering, and math–as we possibly can,” Assistant Principal Mr. Reibenschuh said. “We’ve noticed that the higher levels of math and science are more male-influenced and we’re encouraging as many young ladies who qualify to get in to be as involved as possible. ”

While girls are outnumbered by boys in AP Computer Science, there may be an increase of female students joining the class next year. Reibenschuh is unable to provide the number of girls who registered for the class at this time, but he acknowledged an increase of female representation in AP Computer Science this year from the last.

“It’s hard to tell [if there will be an increase of girls next year] at this point in time because AP Computer Science, we’ve only offered it for the last two years,” Reibenschuh said. “Is there a steady growth [of girls] in it? Yes. Is there still more than 50% boys in it? Yes. But it is an increasing population.”

With respect to the difference of number between girls and boys in AP Computer Science, several of the current, female students do not feel that the disparity is a large hindrance on their work or classroom experience.

“To be in a male-predominated class can initially be intimidating, but with continued teamwork and group activities, it does not affect students on a daily basis,” senior Shweta Kinger said. “It encourages students of both genders to learn how to work together constructively, helping them gain valuable team-work experience vital in the tech industry today.”

Seniors Melissa Chen and Annie Chiou work together in AP Computer Science during fourth period. “I would prefer more girls in my AP Computer Science class because it would be more encouraging for both the girls already in the class and the girls who might consider taking the class in the future,” Chiou said. “It seemed daunting at first to be in a class that is predominantly male. You do adjust, but it would always be great to see more girls interested in the subject.”
Seniors Melissa Chen and Annie Chiou work together in AP Computer Science during fourth period. “I would prefer more girls in my AP Computer Science class because it would be more encouraging for both the girls already in the class and the girls who might consider taking the class in the future,” Chiou said. “It seemed daunting at first to be in a class that is predominantly male. You do adjust, but it would always be great to see more girls interested in the subject.”

To some girls, the gender gap in class might not even be obvious.

“I’ve never noticed that we were really ‘short on girls,’ so to speak,” senior Mira Partha said. “So I have no preference [between boys and girls in AP Computer Science] either way. I find it equally easy to get along with both genders, and I enjoy talking to both, and all of my classmates–boys and girls–take me seriously as a student and as a programmer, without regard to my gender… I’d just be happy with intelligent classmates who are excited to learn and are collaborative rather than competitive. If they fit that criteria, then gender doesn’t matter.”

Yet for others like senior Pragathi Shankar, the gap is a clear, motivational factor.

“Being in a class that’s predominantly male definitely pushes me to strive for excellence and represent the female population in the best way possible,” Shankar said. “If anything, I would like to show that males and females actually have a lot in common, and it is only society’s pointless stereotypes that try to separate us… I really think that the media and society in general has played a huge role in discouraging females from taking Computer Science. Some girls who find the subject interesting, often have parents that might discourage them from taking it (stating that it is not a field for girls), or some girls might just be fearing the sexism that lies ahead. ”

Girls and boys taking AP Computer Science alike nevertheless see that potential, additional female representation in the class might produce a valuable impact.

“I feel that it may create a more balanced environment with a greater variety of perspectives, as girls many times have different mindsets on certain topics or problems than boys do,” senior Shaival Divatia said.

Students of both genders also have suggestions on how to encourage more girls to join AP Computer Science in the future.

“I believe that it is the social pressure that makes girls who want to go into tech decide against it,” senior Pranav Salunke said. “The best encouragement I can think of is not having double standards for a person’s ability at a task whether male or female. If more people are supportive of girls pursuing a STEM field, like the AP Computer Science class, more girls will feel compelled to try. Clubs like ‘Girls Who Code’ are the best way to show support for these girls. I predict as more girls join the technology field, they will get more recognition and can raise higher than before. Joining AP CS is a great first step!”

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