Did you know that only 24% of the computers science (CS) workforce is female, 8% is African-American, and 7% is Latinx? Every student should have the opportunity to learn how to code. Unfortunately, not all students are given equal access to a quality computer science education.
Barriers like lack of funding or teachers being unfamiliar with teaching computer science are contributing factors to the lack of diversity in CS. Minority and marginalized groups need more exposure to STEM education, and we need more of their unique perspectives in the STEM industry.
So, what can you do to make computer science education more equitable in your school or district?
1. Give students access to computer science education early.
The sooner students are exposed to a subject, the less imposing it seems. Computer science is no different. When students don't have any interaction with coding until middle or high school, it feels less familiar and for many students, scarier. They've been exposed to subjects like math and reading since they were young, but all of a sudden they're faced with the prospect of a new subject to learn. This can be daunting and discouraging for students.
By introducing computer science to elementary students, you are setting them up for success down the road. They will feel more confident and prepared throughout their computer science journey.
2. Provide instruction that meets each student where they are.
It's important that computer science instruction feels accessible and engaging to students. If instruction is too easy or too advanced, students may lose interest in coding. Ensure that your students are being taught at the appropriate level that is challenging, but not discouraging.
Elementary school computer science should cater to the needs of younger students with engaging games and block coding to teach them the foundations of computer science. Middle and high school students may not be playing games, but it's important that they are still engaged in interesting coding activities. And most importantly, each individual student should be encouraged and able to progress at their own pace.
3. Make sure all students in your school or district have equal access to CS education.
Logically, one of the best ways to improve equity in computer science education is to increase the availability of computer science education. Unfortunately, not every school has the funding necessary to implement CS education for all students.
The Equity in Computer Science Matching Grant is a great opportunity to obtain funds for implementing computer science platforms in schools. When a school or district is awarded the grant, Skill Struck will match, dollar-for-dollar, the annual licensing, implementation, professional development, and support for Skill Struck's platforms. You can apply for the grant here.
4. Introduce students to diverse role models in STEM.
It's important that students can see themselves working in computer science. One way to help students do this is to introduce them to diverse role models in STEM—both real and fictional. Use this list as a jumping off point and invite your students to discover role models for themselves as well.
- Raquel Romano is a software developer and advocate for members of underrepresented groups in math, science, and technology.
- The character Shuri from The Black Panther is an icon for both female and Black coders and makes working in STEM seem like a superpower.
- The Girls Who Code books have great examples of diversity. The books are written for kids in grades 3–6.
- Gordon Bellamy is a video game executive who has worked on games like Madden and pushed for more accurate and diverse representation in video games.
5. Allow students to express individuality through coding.
Students will feel more interested in computer science when they realize that it can be a vehicle for them to express their individuality. Computer science courses that teach web development allow students to showcase their unique interests.
By committing to making computer science education more equitable, we are investing in the future, not only of our students, but also of the computer science industry. With a quality CS education students will have better job opportunities, more self-confidence in their abilities, and they will become the role models of the future for underrepresented groups in tech.