Seventy-two years ago, Philadelphia became home to the first-ever computer. The ENIAC, manually programmed by six brilliant women, would change the course of history and drive technological advancements for years to come.
Today, the state that made so many of the most significant early strides in computing history is doing it again by investing $20 million in STEM education, and specifically, STEM education for girls.
The commitment from Gov. Tom Wolf is the first of its kind at the state level — and as necessary as ever. Programming jobs, some of the highest paying in the country, are on the rise and yet a vast majority of our nation's public schools still do not offer courses in computer science. Those that do typically do not tailor their curricula to appeal to young women and definitely not to young women of color. Too often, our girls learn about the innovations of men like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg at the expense of the women who pioneered our most revolutionary technology, like the ENIAC women.
In Pennsylvania, for instance, a whopping 70 percent of the highest-paying jobs in the next decade will be in STEM and computer science. But in the 2016-17 school year, only 2.1 percent of the state's public school students took computer science, in part because less than a quarter of these schools even offer computer science.
Dig a little deeper, and you'll notice something even more alarming: Girls made up less than one-third of those students taking computer science last year. Of the nearly 2 million students enrolled in public schools in Pennsylvania, only 6,397 of them were girls taking computer science.
Nationwide data isn't much different; if anything, it's amplified. The lack of computer science classes, and the lack of women in them, translates from the classroom into the boardroom. Today, women make up only 20 percent of the computing workforce.
Girls Who Code, in partnership with Gov. Wolf, is setting out to change that.
As a part of the PAsmart initiative, Pennsylvania will invest $20 million in computer science and STEM education to ensure students are prepared for success in the classroom and future careers. The initiative will increase STEM and computer science training for K-12 students. The state will also raise awareness around Women in Tech lesson plans, the Girls Who Code in-school resource meant to inspire young women to see themselves in STEM careers.
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And, because we cannot change what we cannot measure, Pennsylvania will continue to track and report gender diversity data for computer science classrooms, something no other state in the country is doing.
For our part, Girls Who Code will continue to expand our clubs' presence in Pennsylvania, building on the nearly 150 clubs we already run in the state. One day soon, we hope to expand our Women in Tech lesson plans to feature the very Pennsylvania women who built ENIAC: Kathleen McNulty Mauchly Antonelli, Jean Jennings Bartik, Frances Snyder Holberton, Marlyn Wescoff Meltzer, Frances Bilas Spence, and Ruth Lichterman Teitelbaum.
We can close the gender gap in tech within a generation, but only if we work together.
It's crucial that legislators across the U.S. replicate initiatives like Pennsylvania's — committing to expand access to computer science in middle school and to promoting curricula that appeal to students of all genders, races, ethnicities, and abilities. We also need to see states follow Pennsylvania's lead in tracking and reporting diversity data, so that we can distinguish between solutions that work from those that don't.
With initiatives like these, we can expand opportunity to the highest-paying jobs, eliminate the gender gap in tech, and create a generation of young women technologists ready to create the innovations of tomorrow.
Reshma Saujani is founder and CEO of Girls Who Code. Frances Wolf is first lady of Pennsylvania.