Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Women in Computer Science


Moving emphasis away from programming proficiency was a key to the success of programs Dr. Blum and her colleagues at Carnegie Mellon instituted to draw more women into computer science. At one time, she said, admission to the program depended on high overall achievement and programming experience. The criteria now, she said, are high overall achievement and broad interests, diverse perspectives and whether applicants seem to have potential to be future leaders.

“In this more balanced environment, the men and women were more alike than different,” she said. “Some women are hackers and some men are hackers, and some women love applications and some men love applications.”

With the changes at Carnegie Mellon, women now make up almost 40 percent of computer science enrollees, up from 8 percent, Dr. Blum said.

From this NYTimes report on the declining number of women opting to study computer science. It goes on to talk about some initiatives (such as that of Carnegie Mellon) that have had some success in getting more women enrolled in their undergrad CS programs.

Coming back to India, do our elite institutions -- the IITs for example -- even think that gender imbalance in their student bodies is a problem? This imbalance is atrocious considering the fact that women do very well in high school (Class XII) exams; in CBSE, for example, girls actually do better than boys.

11 Comments:

  1. Sahodaran said...

    I've seen this argument being used by many in support of male-superiority in India. "Women are capable only for 'rote-learning'.."!

  2. Anonymous said...

    While so many people are quick to point out that girls perform better in board exams, not many seem to be concerned that their performances are (with few exceptions though) way behind boys when it comes to JEE or Olympiads.

    wonder why ...

  3. Abi said...

    Sahodaran: You know -- as I do -- that given the right kind of training, girls do as well as (if not better than) boys in school. The CBSE and ICSE results show that they respond to the same incentives as well as (actually better than) boys. If you change the incentives (to bring out their analytical skills, for example), I'm sure they will rise to the occasion.

    Do they get a chance to be in environments where the incentives are different? See my response to Anon below.

    Anon: You don't need to 'wonder' why. You just need to think about the different way in which our girls and boys are treated. Perhaps I can point out a line of thinking that may help you to quit 'wondering':

    Is it possible that IITs and Olympiads require extra training, which may involve spending long (and perhaps late night) hours at some god-forsaken coaching camp? Is it possible that girls (who get a far less nurturing -- physically and mentally -- environment in our society) do not get to participate in such training? Is it possible that this may be the reason for the far smaller number of girls than boys taking the JEE (boys outnumbered girls by 5:1 last year)?

  4. Revathi said...

    I think it is a question of motivation. The boys urged by their parents have face a 'do or die' situation with respect to university admission. Girls are increasingly ambitious but the ambiance is one of ' doing my best'. It is easy to see that this attidude is adequate for CBSE (which is anyway the healthy attitude) but perhaps not for an intensely competitive exam.

  5. gaddeswarup said...

    Abi,
    here is an older article with a slightly different analysis:
    http://www.boston.com/news/education/higher/articles/2005/12/18/in_computer_science_a_growing_gender_gap/

  6. Sourav said...

    To the anon "who wonders why"

    While "boys" in an indian middle class family are expected to win the academic rat race and emerge at the top,the "girls" are still expected to get "a degree", before marrying them off.Hence,you really dont have to wonder why the girls fall behind in the cut-throat competition.
    Also,a second point.There is a huge misconception among the middle class that cracking the IIT-JEE is the pinnacle of human intelligence.Being an ex-IITian myself,I can tell you,it is not.Also, in this regard,
    I also wonder why the "intelligence" of India seems to become concentrated in the geographical confines of its greatest "Koching" factories.:D

  7. Doctor Bruno said...

    I would like to give some inputs here.....

    Whenever there was an Exam that combined both MCQs and Text Based Patters (there are a lot of such exams during MBBS), it was always found that girls outscored boys in the text part and boys outscored girls in the MCQ part....

    I am sure that the concept of coaching etc do not come here...

    In 1995, a student called Delinda scored 200/200 in ALL FOUR SUBJECTS other than English and Tamil (Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Biology) .... She of course attended the same entrance exam coaching centres as others, but managed some 80/100 in Entrance....

    This is just a tip of ice berg...

    Please note that for getting more than 95 %, every one, whether boy or girl is into some special kind of coaching... Tuitions, special classes etc....

    Hence I do no consider the "Advantage of Coaching Argument"

    For example, (in 1996) I got 199,196 and 185 in Class XII and 98.333 % in Entrance and got MBBS seat

    The girl who got District First in our batch got 200,199,199 and 95 % in Entrance

    Both got into MBBS

    And the bottom line

    We both attended the same Entrance Coaching Class and the same Tuition for Physics and Chemistry.....

  8. Doctor Bruno said...

    Now Abi,

    Coming to "getting into MBBS" in Tamil Nadu, the motivation as well as the facilites were same to both....

    THere will be equal number of boys and girls in Physics, Chemistry and Biology Tuitions / SPecial Classes and Coaching Classes and there will be equal number of boys and girls in the Entrance Coaching Institutes...

    What you say (Boys getting more facilities / being motivated) may be true as far as IIT-JEE, PMPD etc, but as far as I know I don't thing that there is a difference between the genders at State Exams....

    Yet the results are varied...

    This year, there is NO entrance in Tamil Nadu.... You will see that out of the 1500 seats, at least 1100 will be filled by girls...

    By the way, take the TOP 100 rankers in any Board Exams..... How many of them have got there without and coaching... Not even 5...

    In my knowledge, the level of coaching / special classes / tuitions needed for Class XII exams are more than the one month Training for Entrance Exams....

  9. Kiran said...

    This is a very valid point Abi, and I wonder why it is not discussed more often.

    I remember being pleasantly surprised when I performed far better than some of my female classmates in Class XII, when these same classmates would regularly trounce my scores throughout primary and high school.

    I realize now that I probably had unequal opportunities - I used to walk the last 2 km to my house from tution everyday, in total darkness. I cannot imagine a girl being able to safely do that in India.

  10. Anonymous said...

    Well some of this is natural too- girls perform very well in the age 11-15 and boys generally in the 15-18 age range (here I am talking as a parent who has witnessed this change). I feel that if the JEE was held when children are in the 11-15 age group, the results would be entirely different. There is some amount of aggressivity needed in these extreme situations and somehow nature doesnt want girls to acquire this.I am sure there are a lot of women who have surmounted this natural handicap and hats off to them!

  11. Anonymous said...

    No,to crack the IIT,coaching is not needed more than other exams.
    My elder brother came 60th in IIT with minimal coaching but lots of studying by himself.
    Besides it is seen that even in gender equal societies the trend persists.
    Besides which one wonders why the CBSE exams which require massive memorization in which girls excel are not called biased.
    Besides which,Medical exams require as much coaching,and there the ratio is much more even.Obviously,females falling behind is discrimination but males falling behind is simply lack of talent.
    How wonderful.Keep it up...Mangina.