basic high school background in computer science will be increasingly foundational to every career. Yet girls and students
of color are still systematically left behind in this critical field.
We’re addressing the problem by making sure every school
teaches computer science and by providing a curriculum and
teacher prep program that ensures the class is offered in a
way that addresses equity and diversity at the core.
“WITH FEW TO NO ROLE
MODELS, GIRLS AND
MINORITIES MAKE THE
COMPUTER SCIENCE IS
NOT FOR THEM.”
What are some of the causes you see as contributing to
the gender gap and underrepresentation of people of
color in computer programming?
Our focus is on the diversity gap in K– 12 education. There
are three factors that contribute to the problem in our school
1) Equal Access: Most schools don’t even offer computer
science courses. This is particularly true in underprivileged
urban and rural schools. If the course isn’t even offered, the
students never get the opportunity to study it. Consider this:
black students are more interested in studying computer science, but they are less likely to attend a school that offers it.
Computer science is the most-valued subject in all education,
and we believe students should have equal access to study it.
2) Biases and Stereotypes: Where computer science is offered, it’s most often an elective. And with no concerted efforts to recruit diversity, preconceived stereotypes are perpetuated through self-selection, or even through school efforts
that reflect the unconscious biases of society. With few to no
role models, girls and underrepresented minorities make the
assumption that computer science is not for them.
3) Math-Focused Curriculum: Traditionally computer science
has been taught as a math course, and that only attracts one
type of student. By broadening the focus to include creativity,
app-making, and social impact, we also broaden the participation by students who previously didn’t consider this an interesting course.
How are you working to close the diversity gap?
Code.org works to get computer science taught in K– 12
schools. When we began our work, only about 10 percent of
schools offered computer science classes, and now it’s close
to 50 percent. Code.org creates the world’s most popular
computer science curriculum for K– 12 schools, and we enlist
schools and prepare teachers to teach our courses, with a
specific focus on equity and diversity.
To address stereotypes and biases, Code.org organizes
widespread marketing and awareness campaigns, such as
the global Hour of Code during Computer Science Education
Week that encourage diverse participation and feature diverse
role models. Our professional learning programs feature
sessions that help educators understand the importance of
diversity and address ways to avoid unintentional biases in
interacting and recruiting students.
The results speak for themselves: 25 percent of all students
in the United States now have accounts on the Code.org plat-
form. Close to 12 million of them are girls. Our students are
almost half female, almost half underrepresented minorities.
Our diversity numbers and scale are unprecedented because
of the incredible work of almost a million teachers who offer
our courses as part of the K– 12 school system.
In James Damore’s memo, titled “Google’s Ideological
Echo Chamber,” Damore makes the argument that wom-
en are less inherently interested or even capable in tech.
What is your response to this?
Debating this, or even asking this question, is offensive to
women. A 2016 study from the University of Toronto shows
that genes make no difference in the ability to learn computer science. There is no evidence that biological factors hold
women back from learning to code. UCLA research shows
that the way computer science is taught in schools disadvantages women. The problems we witness over and over again
are accessibility and social stereotyping. Code.org’s own
research shows that just a single Hour of Code activity can
boost girls’ attitude and confidence toward coding, by simply
trying our courses, which are designed to break traditional
Code.org CEO Hadi Partovi (pictured above) and his brother Ali
launched their education nonprofit in 2013. After immigrating from
Iran and becoming a developer for Microsoft before founding
Code.org, Hadi has experienced first-hand how computer science
can change the trajectory of a person’s life. Now he spends his time
trying to bring computer science courses to every K– 12 school.
Image source: Code.org