By Valerie Giles
One key challenge educators face is the importance of encouraging girls to excel in math, science and computer science studies. As technology continues to drive the world of business, those challenged or generally disinterested in science and math will be left behind. In fact, that's exactly what's happening.
Although women make up approximately 50% of the general work force in the U.S., they only represent 9% of workers in the science and engineering community. With such a low percentage of female interest, the government is expecting increased worker shortages through the first decade of the 21st century for the information technology (IT) industry.
The core worker in the IT industry are computer engineers, systems analysts, programmers and computer scientists, which includes database administrators, computer support personnel and all other computer scientists. These are all careers that relate directly back to high school math and science, in addition to computer science studies.
Growth projections by The Bureau of Labor Statistics' indicate that the current graduation rate of those in undergraduate computer, information sciences and technology programs aren't high enough to sustain the industry's growth. In addition, they acknowledged that the even greater decrease of women into the computer science pipeline will have a profound effect on the industry.
These researchers believe that the low representation of women in computer science at the undergraduate level is inherited from the secondary school level, where girls do not participate in computer science courses and related activities as much as boys. Although girls are often well represented in earlier computing courses, they shy away from advanced courses. One possible reason for this is because of the increased focus on the technical and math course requirements.
This leads us back to math and science studies in elementary and high school, and yet another growing concern within the scientific community.
We currently believe that our nation's future economic prosperity and global competition depends on both scientific progress and our adaptability in the fields of science, technology and engineering. As our society shifts from a resource-intensive society to a knowledge-intensive economy, it is critical for all of us to develop the knowledge and skills needed to contribute to this new community.
With this in mind, knowledge of math and science has now become essential for those pursuing a high-status and well-paid job in our new technologically advanced workforce.
Again, the science community is concerned that industry growth in the early 21st century will far out pace that of graduates. Once again, research has suggested that the root of this problem can be traced back to elementary and high school classrooms.
In going back to the classroom, a study by the National Assessment of Education Progress discovered that girls score below the national mean on all science achievement items and express negatives attitudes towards science. The study acknowledged that societal, education and personal factors all contribute to this funding, but stressed that differences within the science classroom may be one of the biggest contributing factors.
So what factors are discouraging girls from excelling in math, science and computer science studies in high school? Research has shown a number of different issues that need to be addressed. They believe that girls are not presented with adequate information about science-related career opportunities and their prerequisites, and that high school counselors often do not encourage further courses in math and science. In addition, texts, the media and many adults often project sex-stereotyped views of science and scientists.
A lack of development of spatial ability skills may also be an issue, which could be fostered in shop and mechanical drawing classes. Girls also have fewer experiences with science activities and equipment, which are often stereotyped as being masculine.
In order to encourage girls in the pursuit of math and science, teachers are encouraged to maintain well-equipped, organized and perceptually stimulating classrooms, use non-sexist language and examples, include information on women scientists and stress creatively and basic skills and provide career information.
In addition, math and science teachers should use laboratories, discussions and weekly quizzes as their primary modes of instruction or teaching strategies and supplement those activities with field trips and guest speakers. If possible, teachers should also encourage parental involvement.
Studies have also shown that teachers, both male and female, who were successful in motivating girls to continue to study science, practiced what is called "directed intervention". They asked girls to assist with demonstrations, which required these students to perform and not merely record, in the laboratories, and in science-related fieldtrips.
When it comes to computer science studies, a similar approach can be taken. Although these studies do involved math, programming and technical issues, computer science educators need to be aware that working with computers involves much more than that. It also requires fully developed verbal and interpersonal skills - an area in which girls tend to excel at.
In order to attract more girls to the study, teachers should concentrate on applications and not just on math or programming. That's because girls generally don't get as excited about computers for their gadget value, as boys do. Instead, girls become more interested and engaged when technology is discussed in terms of it's usefulness for problem solving.
Computer science educators should also impart to girls the important need for women in the industry and outline more career options. For example, jobs are not just limited to programming; individuals are needed to help solve business problems with technology solutions. The industry itself is focused on solving problems, and developing solutions to help business continue to grow.
By introducing science, math and computer science in a positive manner to girls in all levels of education, we may be able to turn the tide and see more and more women choose careers in these important fields.
If we truly believe children are our future, now is the time to ensure that they have a place in the future we have created.
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