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Gender Gap Emerging in Computer Science

The gender gap between girls and boys studying math and science is closing. At the same time, a gap in studying computer science is emerging, according to a study released today by the American Association of University Women (AAUW).

"Girls have narrowed some significant gender gaps, but technology is now the new 'boys club' in our nation's public schools," said Janice Weinman, Executive Director of the Women's Advocacy Group. "While boys program and problem-solve with computers, girls use computers for word processing, the 1990's version of typing."

Janice Weinman, AAUW's Executive Director believes, "The virtual ceiling is replacing the glass ceiling."

The study reported that 25 percent of girls were taking or had taken computer science courses, compared with 30 percent of boys. Girls were also more likely to apply for courses in data entry and word processing.

Other gaps were evident in science. Twenty-seven percent of boys had taken physics, compared with only 22 percent of girls. Twenty-three percent of boys had enrolled in a combination of biology, chemistry, and physics, compared with only 20 percent of girls.

"As student diversity changes the face of public education, and technology changes the workplace, schools must work smarter and harder to ensure that girls graduate with the knowledge and abilities they need to compete and succeed in the 21st century economy," said Maggie Ford, President of the Education Department.

The cause of girls' disinterest in computer technology has been blamed partly on computer games designed primarily for boys, which give them a head start. "I feel that games and software have been targeted at boys. That's a fact that you can validate by walking into any store that sells software," said Anita Borg, Founder and President of the Institute for Women and Technology in Palo Alto, California.

Women in technological fields have also reported a lack of role models as being a deterrent for girls. "I think that the stereotypes of the techie have so pervaded the culture that girls don't feel that they belong," said Borg.

AAUW's study within their new publication, Gender Gaps: Where Schools Still Fail Our Children, does mention a few positives for girls in academics.

A higher percentage of girls than boys are now taking Advanced Placement courses in English, Biology, and foreign languages. This leads some researchers to believe that girls are in fact getting a well-rounded education.

"Course-taking patterns, when viewed as a whole, suggest that girls may be getting a broader education than boys by deepening their exposure to math and science and by enrolling in more courses in other subject areas," the report stated.

Media Resources: Washington Post and Associated Press - October 14, 1998

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