Tens Of Thousands Of Girls Have Signed Up For This Class In The Last Year



The number of women and minorities taking a new AP class in Computer Science Principles has tripled in a year. 

The representation of women in STEM still has a long way to go. Women make up only 29 percent of the engineering workforce, according to a recent study, and only 18 percent of computer science majors are female.

But in light of a massive increase in enrollment in a new computer-science course that was rolled out in high schools last year, the potential for way more women and minorities getting involved in STEM at an earlier age is promising. 

New figures show that from 2016 to 2017, the number of girls who took the AP Computer Science exam went from 12,642 to 29,708, and the number of underrepresented minorities went from 8,282 to 22,199. 

I believe the scientific term for that is “a huge freaking uptick.”

It bears noting, however, that even with that groundswell, a significant disparity remains: Of the students who took AP CS last year, only 1 in 5 were underrepresented minorities, and 1 in 4 were women.

Still, that kind of growth is encouraging. According to NPR, the increase is largely attributed to the introduction of a course called AP Computer Science Principles, which takes a more abstract approach to creatively solving real-world problems. The traditional AP Computer Science curriculum, by comparison, focuses on Java programming.

The course came about in part by the impetus of non-profits and financial backing from Silicon Valley—in particular, Code.org, which was founded by twin brothers Hadi and Ali Partovi. "The entire reason the new exam and course were created was to broaden participation in computer science,” Hadi told NPR. 

The more creative approach means it’s more than a multiple-choice test: AP CSP test-takers are required to submit a portfolio of work, much like an art course. Another aspect of its appeal is that it doesn’t require a sophisticated understanding of programming languages; the emphasis is on understanding the structure of the internet, data analysis, and creating new apps. 

The appeal of knowledge you’ll absolutely be able to apply in the real-world, combined with the room to think creatively, is proving to be hugely appealing to demographics that have long been sidelined.

Add to that the fact that Girl Scouts can now earn badges for programming, designing and building robots, and the future generations of women in STEM are poised to make their presence felt like never before.

Words: Deena Drewis
Photo: Daria Kobayashi Ritch