Tech lobby thrilled about computer coding in schools

People who work in Saskatchewan’s technology sector are applauding the provincial government’s pledge to introduce new computer coding courses in elementary and high schools, hoping to solve an industry-wide labour crunch. The province’s tech sector is still comparatively small, but rapid growth has resulted in a shortage of experienced software developers, and the problem is expected to get worse, according to a spokesman for a new industry lobby group. “We can identify several hundred open jobs right now,” said Aaron Genest, who works for the computer chip developer Solido Design Automation Inc. and speaks for SaskTech, which represents more than 40 companies with about 5,000 employees. “It’s an early indicator of the challenges that we’re going to face in 10, 15, 25 years … In the long term, we need to prepare our children to see (computer science) programs as part of their future.” The Saskatchewan Party

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SaskTech spokesman Aaron Genest in the Saskatoon offices of Solido Design Automation Inc.

government committed to developing the curriculum in its throne speech, which was read in the legislature on Wednesday. It said the courses will prepare children for careers in science, engineering and technology.  The promise emerged from consultations with SaskTech and the broader industry.  Education Minister Bronwyn Eyre said this week that while the mechanics have yet to be worked out, she would like to see the courses being taught “as soon as possible.” She declined to provide a specific timeline but said enthusiasm for the proposal is widespread. The main challenge is a shortage of qualified teachers, the Stonebridge–Dakota MLA said. Saskatchewan only has about 70 teachers qualified to instruct high school students in computer science, and the province’s two education colleges must work to increase that number, she said. Saskatchewan’s 28 school boards have spent the last six months grappling with a 1.2 per cent, or $22 million, operational funding reduction handed down in the government’s unpopular 2017-18 budget, which aims to halve a $1.2 billion deficit this year. Eyre said the province’s financial situation has “no relevance” to the development of coding courses. “Now that the focus is there, and so the resources will, I’ve been assured, fall into place,” she said.  Michelle Naidu, associate director of development for the Saskatchewan Teachers Federation, noted it takes years to develop new courses, and professional development resources are already scarce; however, she said the proposed courses could benefit students. “Computational thinking is going to start showing up in all kinds of jobs as we move away from people doing work,” said Naidu, who is also the president of the Saskatchewan Math Teachers Society. “It’s really hard to predict the future, but everyone seems to be very happy to understand that technology is going to play a larger role in everyone’s future, and so that understanding of the basics of how that works is to everyone’s advantage.” Genest said SaskTech is thrilled the government was open to considering the industry’s proposals, and that while introducing the courses will take time it signals a willingness to boost an emerging sector in the provincial economy.  “It means that they’re committing to a homegrown solution to it (so) that Saskatchewan citizens are going to be able to step in and fill the gap in a technology-driven future.” Measuring the size of the province’s tech sector is difficult, as its work is diverse and often overlaps with other industries. However, the provincial government estimates its economic impact is around $540 million — just under one per cent of the provincial GDP. “Absolutely, it has economic potential,” Eyre said of the proposal. “And absolutely that’s why we’re doing it. We need to take our place as a province that offers this to our students.”

 

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Why Girls Are Less Interested In Computer Science: Classrooms Are Too ‘Geeky’

Despite billions of dollars in outreach programs designed to lure women into computer programming, and companies mandating that more women be hired, most females would rather go into something involving people. Yet a new survey of 270 high school students concludes that three times as many girls would interested in enrolling in a computer science class if the classroom was redesigned to be less “geeky” and more inviting. So we can knock Barbie dolls and pink clothes, but they are appealing to the market that is rather than the market some academics would like it to be. The notion that women and men are the same has become passe. “Our findings show that classroom design matters — it can transmit stereotypes to high school students about who belongs and who doesn’t in computer science,” said lead author Allison Master, a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning&Brain Sciences (I-LABS). “This is the earliest age we’ve looked at to study stereotypes about computer science. It’s a key age group for recruitment into this field, because girls in their later adolescence are starting to focus on their career options and aspirations.” In the study, high school boys and girls (aged 14 to 18 years) completed questions about:

  • Their interest in enrolling in a computer science class
  • Their sense of belonging in a computer science class
  • How much they thought they personally “fit” the computer science stereotype

Then, the UW team showed the students photos of two different computer science classrooms decorated with objects that represented either the “geeky” computer science stereotype, including computer parts and “Star Trek” posters, or a non-stereotypical classroom containing items such as art and nature pictures. Students had to say which classroom they preferred, and then answered questions about their interest in enrolling in a computer science course and their thoughts and feelings about computer science and stereotypes. Girls (68 percent) were more likely than boys (48 percent) to prefer the non-stereotypical classroom. And girls were almost three times more likely to say they would be interested in enrolling in a computer science course if the classroom looked like the non-stereotypical one. Boys didn’t prefer one classroom’s physical environment over the other, and how the classroom looked didn’t change boys’ level of interest in computer science. “Stereotypes make girls feel like they don’t fit with computer science,” Master said. “That’s a barrier that isn’t there for boys. Girls have to worry about an extra level of belonging that boys don’t have to grapple with.” Previously they reported that inaccurate negative cultural stereotypes about computer science deterred college-age women from the field and that altering stereotypes can increase girls’ interest. The researchers say that changing computer science stereotypes to make more students feel welcome in high school classrooms would help recruit more girls to the field, which has one of the lowest percentages of women among STEM fields. “Our new study suggests that if schools and teachers feel they can’t recruit girls into their computer science classes,” Master said, “they should make sure that the classrooms avoid stereotypes and communicate to students that everyone is welcome and belongs.” Read the entire article here

Melinda Gates is doubling down on women in tech

 

Melinda Gates wants to put her muscle behind getting more women in tech.

Gates has focused much of her work on the well-being of women and girls around the globe — but this issue hits particularly close to home. Gates, a computer science graduate, joined Microsoft in 1987. She eventually married its founder Bill Gates, and the two launched the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000. Gates is now creating a “personal office” devoted to bringing more women into tech, according to an interview with Jessi Hempel at BackChannel. It’s early in the process, and Gates is still figuring out the best way to get involved. She said she’s currently in “learning mode,” and looking at everything from education to venture capital funding for women. One thing is evident: Gates said data will play a big role in approaching the issue. Gates cited the fact that just 18% of women are earning computer science undergrad degrees in the U.S. That has fallen significantly from the 1980s, when women received 38% of the degrees. “Every company needs technology, and yet we’re graduating fewer women technologists. That is not good for society. We have to change it,” she said.

Related: Carnegie Mellon’s School of Computer Science nears gender parity 

She added that her office looked into the number of patents received by female inventors. “Four decades ago, 3% of all patents listed at least one woman inventor. As of 2010, nearly 19% of patents did,” she said. While that shows a clear improvement, she said her team’s projections didn’t see parity until 2092. In recent years, companies like Google (GOOG), Facebook (FB, Tech30), Apple (AAPL, Tech30),Microsoft (MSFT, Tech30) have released annual reports on workforce diversity in a bid to be more transparent. But there’s been very little progress. Microsoft’s 2015 report showed that its percentage of female employees actually declined from 29% to 26.8%. It cited massive layoffs as the reason. The transparency is, however, a start. And Gates notes that there hasn’t been a lot of research or money devoted to the issue previously. “In the tech space, men don’t really see a problem and a lot of the money is held by men,” she said.

Related: Melinda Gates: ‘Poverty is sexist’

It’s not difficult to understand why tech products and services would benefit from a more inclusive workforce. In an interview with CNN’s Poppy Harlow last week, Gates also stressed the importance of diversity. “We know that more diverse teams put out a better product,” she said. This goes for people of color as well, which Gates also noted in her interview with Hempel. Gates cited Apple’s health app as an example of a product that has a “blatant error.” It didn’t include period tracking. Gates stressed that she was “not picking on Apple at all,” but “it’s just an example of all the things we can leave out for women.” Read the original article here