Girls Who Code (GWC) is much bigger than just a coding program. The nonprofit, where I spent my summer interning through the Edmund S. Muskie Internship Program, is dedicated to closing the gender gap in technology.
Coming from Russia, this gap is something I can really relate to: I ended up doing my BA in teaching —a traditionally female field– because I wasn’t accepted to the high school preparatory course for International Relations. They didn’t accept girls, because, as I was told, “you guys have kids and never get back to work after.”
Very progressive, right?
The problem that Girls Who Code addresses is that while tech jobs are among the fastest growing in the United States, girls are being left behind. While interest in computer science ebbs over time, the biggest drop off happens between the ages of 13-17. By 2020, there will be 1.4 million jobs available in computing related fields. U.S. graduates are on track to fill 29% of those jobs. Women are on track to fill just 3%.
GWC is not just an organization. It’s a national movement with more than 900 clubs across the country. 65% of the clubs’ participants say they are considering a major or minor in Computer Science because of Girls Who Code. But the organization isn’t just about learning new skills. It’s about building sisterhood and encouraging girls to believe in themselves — be brave, not perfect. An HP report found that men will apply for a job if they meet only 60% of the qualifications. But women? Women will apply only if they meet 100% of the qualifications. 100%! This study is usually invoked as evidence that women need a little more confidence.
Girls Who Code uses the key idea of modern to education to inspire young women: problem-based learning. The thought is we can’t force students to learn things because we think they are important or will be useful in some distant future, what we have to do is make them believe that they can change the world. An intern for the Curriculum and Education team of GWC, I help design and improve the ways that we teach coding. Currently, I’m working on adapting coding activities for visually-impaired students.
The curriculum we design is flexible in order to be tweaked for the needs of students. Girls start their journey by deciding what project to be build as a group. It should be something they care about, something that can make the community and their life better. Then they choose what skills they would need to acquire to build this final product- an app, a website or a robot. Then they start learning those skills while discussing how the programming concepts they’re studying will play out in the final project. That way they are driven by a bigger goal, that both motivates and holds them accountable for what they are doing.
I firmly believe that education like this should be accessible for everyone: that was the main reason why I decided to obtain my master’s degree in educational technology in the first place.
I still haven’t decided who I’m going to be when I grow up when I go back to Russia after my completing my degree, but I will definitely be working on popularizing and improving the quality of online education. That’s because I think online education is a way to fight inequality.
So many kids don’t have access to quality computer science education and development of 21st century skills just because they are raised in small towns with no resources. But with a laptop and internet access, children could study anything. I want this to become reality in all of Russia.
The Edmund S. Muskie Internship Program is a summer internship program funded by the U.S. Department of State that provides emerging leaders from Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia with the opportunity to gain real-world experience complementing and enriching their graduate studies in the United States.
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