Women in Computer Science

CollegeBoard survey reveals low numbers of females taking AP Computer Science exam


Courtesy of the Office of Communications

Alumnus Surbhi Sarna (class of ’03) is the founder of nVision Medical, a medical company targeting ovarian cancer. The 28-year-old took a computer science course at the Upper School.

A recent CollegeBoard survey revealed a public static void of females in three different states among the 30,000 students worldwide who took the AP Computer Science exam.

The trend doesn’t stop there, though. In the 47 states where girls can take the AP Computer Science exam, the percentage of females who actually did ranged from 4 percent to 29 percent.

To this day, women struggle to be professionally established in technology and engineering, holding a mere quarter of available jobs in the field.

A main reason for this trend lies in the lack of academic and educational courses involving computer science within public schools across the nation. In fact, 15 percent of the total 15,000 high schools in the United States offer AP Computer Science. Of this 15 percent, private schools make a large portion, according to EducationWeek.org.

Female students involved in computer science, including senior Preethi Periyakoil, believe that computer science at the Upper School has provided a unique experience in helping her find her passion.

“I love how Harker has so many classes that other schools have never even heard of…the advanced topics can only be found here,” Preethi said. “I don’t think these courses are available in most other high school. Because I got a big more exposure to the field via Harker, I decided to pursue computer science.”

Senior Christine Lee, who is also actively involved in computer science, believes that this field has re-evaluated gender roles.

“I think it’s a field where women can be less concerned about oppression, and that allows them to reach their fullest potentials,” Christine said.

On the other hand, not all schools around the world have an equal distribution of girls in the computer science classes.

In the Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools of Kazakhstan, students are provided with the IT, or Introduction to Computer Science, course, which covers website design, cloud computing, database programming, and multimedia editing. The class not only teaches how to create such tools, but also how to analyze their ethical and social impact.

“Eighteen students take the class on a standard level, while 21 have it on Higher Level. Hence 39 out of 44 students take the course. The remainder of five are girls,” said Assiya Utzhanova, a senior at the school.

Despite this shortcoming in Kazakhstan, Assiya feels that this trend is rapidly changing and girls in her generation are increasingly becoming involved in this field.

“However, there are around 22 girls in my grade, and 17 have the IT subject on their agenda. Even if computer science is not usually considered to be a course for girls, in my case evaluating the IT impact on society makes it more open for girls,” she said.

In order to further expand female involvement on a global front, the College Board is attempting increase availability of computer courses in several academic curricula and collaborating with national educational organizations.

This piece was originally published in the pages of the Winged Post on March 12, 2014.