Violent video games, nerdy Internet hackers, boring classes: It's no wonder girls are turned off by computers, according to a new report. If girls are ever to catch up with boys in information technology (IT), the "culture of computers" has to change, concludes a panel of schoolteachers, academics, and others formed by the American Association of University Women Education Foundation.
Their report, "Tech-Savvy: Educating Girls in the New Computer Age," notes that women now earn less than 28% of the U.S. bachelor's degrees awarded in computer science, down from 37% in 1984. After surveying teachers, interviewing girls, and reviewing the literature, the panel concludes that "girls have reservations about the computer culture." E-mail and surfing the Web don't count, it says, because true IT literacy means using computers "proactively."
The situation is "of increasing concern, from the point of view of education, economics, and culture," the report notes, especially in light of the yawning shortage of IT workers. Wholesale changes are needed, it says, from better teacher training to more computer games that appeal to girls.
"Their conclusions are on target," says Mary Lou Soffa, a computer scientist at the University of Pittsburgh who has mentored IT students. "Computer science is not just doing boring work," she says, pointing to exciting computer-based careers in art and business. "But somehow we've not conveyed that [message] to girls."