Gender Equity in Education

By Margaret Lim

ggI recently read a report commissioned by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) Educational Foundation called Gender Gaps: Where Schools Still Fail Our Children. The report is a follow up to their first report, How Schools Shortchange Girls. While the report acknowledges that schools have made progress in providing an equitable education for both boys and girls, some concerns still remain.

The report examines several areas, including how many girls are taking math and science classes, the use of technology among girls, risk issues and preparedness for the workforce. I found the issue of technology use among girls to be particularly interesting. As the report mentions, “Girls make up only a small percentage of students in computer science and computer design classes. The gender gap widens from grade eight to eleven. Girls are significantly more likely than boys to enroll in clerical and data-entry classes, the 1990s version of typing, and less likely to enroll in advanced computer science and graphics courses.”

This concerns me, especially since more and more jobs and careers involve the use of computer technology. As the report says, “A competitive nation cannot allow girls to write off technology as exclusively male domain.”

The report makes several suggestions on how to alleviate this concern. They primarily target teacher professional development, stating “teachers need guidance on how to use classroom technologies to advance the dual goals of excellent and equitable education.” The word that stands out to me in this statement is “equitable.” While we as a society have long recognized the effectiveness of technology on learning in the classroom, how many of us see it as an issue of equity? This is a powerful idea.

Having myself taught in an elementary school classroom, I can attest to the difference between technology being introduced in the primary grades (such as kindergarten or first grade) compared to older grades (such as high school). The earlier technology is introduced into the classroom, the more equitable the access. Walk into any first grade classroom, for example, and you will find kids feeling free to participate in any activity. The later technology is introduced into the classroom, the wider the gap. Hence why there are fewer girls than boys enrolling in high school computer science classes.

However, if more middle and elementary school teachers began using technology in the classroom, imagine how the gap would narrow and how many more girls would have equitable access. To do this, we need district administrators, principals and teachers to see the value in professional development for teachers. We need to see more teachers at annual conferences like the Computer Using Educators (CUE) Conference in Palm Springs or online at webinars hosted by organizations like T.H.E Journal, a publication that focuses on technology implementation in K-12 schools and districts. Or what if across the country, computer classes hosted by the Digital Media Academy became a meeting place for teachers to inspire each other with ideas for reaching students through technology?

Because our courses are offered for Stanford University Continuing Studies units, many of our locations, like Stanford University, The University of Texas at Austin, or Darlington, South Carolina, are already annual meeting places for teachers. Many are taking classes like Web Design, Digital Filmmaking and Storytelling Bootcamp, Final Cut Pro (film editing), or Digital Photography and Photoshop. What would be greatly encouraging, however, is to see our programs be not just a meeting place for some teachers, but a meeting place for all teachers. An investment in each teacher’s professional development has a multiplying effect. Imagine the power that would be unleashed every September if teachers, refreshed and retrained through the summer, walked into classrooms all over the country with new ideas on how to apply technology into their everyday curriculum. As a society, we may actually move towards equity in education. And as the AAUW Educational Foundation wisely notes, “equity is the key to excellence in education.”