Google is bringing its computer-coding course to more than 100,000 elementary and middle school students across the country as part of a campaign to encourage more girls and underrepresented minorities to consider careers in computer science.
The program, called CS First, introduces basic programming skills to 9- to 14-year olds using Scratch, a language developed at MIT’s Lifelong Kindergarten Group that teaches kids to create interactive, multimedia presentations.
When Google started the program in 2013 from its South Carolina data center, it was known as “club in a box.” It’s now in 1,400 after-school programs across the country and in Canada.
On Monday, the tech giant announced it’s partnering with AmeriCorps VISTA and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. Twenty AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers are heading out for a year to help implement CS First at Boys & Girls Clubs in Boston, Chicago, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Washington state.
Last week, New York City officials said they’re collaborating with Google to introduce CS First at 857 after-school sites throughout all five boroughs starting next September.
“Connecting youth to opportunities that will expose them to hands-on learning and increase their awareness of careers in the technology field is crucial,” Meryl Jones, assistant commissioner at the New York City Department of Youth and Community Development, told the New York Daily News last week. “Initiatives such as this cultivate curiosity and encourage our youth to inquire, create, and explore.”
By 2020, the United States will be short 1 million qualified people for the projected number of jobs in the industry, according to Code.org, a Seattle-based nonprofit working to expand computer science education.
Filling those positions will not be possible without tapping the potential of girls and students of color, who are now the majority of public school students, as Education Week reported in an August 2014 article.
Women in particular are leaving the field. In 1990, women held nearly 40 percent of computer science jobs, but that has fallen to about a quarter today, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. What’s more, the National Science Foundation reports that between 2002 and 2012, the number of women earning bachelor’s degrees in computer science dropped by 36 percent
The outlook isn’t much better for black and Hispanic students. Although the number of students taking the Advanced Placement computer science exam in high school surged by more than 92 percent from 2004 to 2014, only 14 percent of test takers last year were black and Hispanic, according to the College Board, which produces the tests.
The free online video curriculum contains 10 hours of tutorials and activities designed to engage students by tapping into their interests and passions in everything from art and fashion design to music, and from politics to storytelling.
“CS First is helping to build a pipeline of future computer scientists with diversity in mind,” said Maggie Johnson, the director of education and university relations at Google, in an email to Education Week.
Johnson said girls and underrepresented minority students account for about half the students enrolled in CS First programs. Even if they don’t end up pursuing computer science degrees in college, she added, “the exposure and understanding of the impact of computer science is valuable to any future.”
A version of this news article first appeared in the Time and Learning blog.