Will the technological revolution produce new opportunities for all -- or just some -- children?
Some social scientists fear that old patterns of bias that have traditionally marred science professions are showing up at today's classroom computer keyboards. Early research indicates that many female, low-income, minority and disabled students aren't finding computer education user-friendly.
"In 1983 alone, American schools spent nearly $500 million on computers and programs," says Leslie Wolfe, director of the Project on Equal Education Rights (PEER). "In the midst of this new and exciting technological change, an old familiar story is emerging. Once again, schools are becoming a breeding ground for a pattern of opportunity based on sex, race and class -- rather than on ability."
To counter this trend, PEER'S Center for Computer Equity -- a locally based group -- has developed a kit, "Programming Equity Into Computer Education." The diagnostic test will be made available to schools and school districts this month.
Developed under a grant from the American Express Foundation and other sources, the center's $10 kit is designed to guide school officials and community groups in examining school policies and practices regarding computer use in the classroom, in gathering data about perceptions of students, teachers and administrators on access to computers and other equity issues, and in analyzing student enrollment in computer courses by sex, race, ethnic grouip and for disabled students.
In December a PEER study, "Sex Bias at the Computer Terminal -- How Schools Program Girls," reported a gap in the distribution of computers between "wealthy and poor schools" and charged that boys now outnumber girls -- by nearly two to one -- in computer science courses. In computer programming courses, about 64 percent of the students are boys. And boys outnumber girls -- three to one -- in computer camps and summer classes, suggesting to PEER researchers that parents may be more willing to invest in computer training for their sons than for their daughters.
Yet, in a PEER survey of five states with high school business education programs -- which prepared students for lower-paying jobs -- girls made up 80 percent of the enrollment.
Elizabeth Tidball, professor of physiology at George Washington University Medical School, recently examined educational sex bias in the science departments of 288 colleges and universities that produce more than 80 percent of all natural science doctorates. Among her findings, to be published this summer in the Journal of Higher Education, Tidball reports that the sciences are still predominantly the province of men.
"Here's the bind," says Tidball. "The woman who has the vision to consider herself a scientist must be a nontraditional thinker. But once she's inside she's less likely to fit in as one of the boys [if] she doesn't share a traditional attitude.
"It's especially important that we keep the new sciences, like computer science, free of this pattern. As a new field, untainted and free of stereotypes, it will be more welcoming to women." Publish or Perish
George Washington University's Center for Continuing Education again offers its eight-week Publication Specialist Program, starting next week. A diverse course selection includes Fundamentals of Proofreading and Copyediting, Graphic Tools and Techniques, Writing for Publications and Publications Management. (202) 676-7273. Moving to Washington?
The Relocation Counseling Center of America in Alexandria, Va., offers information packets on living and working in the metropolitan area -- including tips on jobs, housing and transportation. The material's orientation is the job market and job hunting, says the center's president, Robert Hess, but specific information on cost of living, taxes and climate is available. (703) 671-5219. Volunteer Management
With 5,000 nonprofit organizations in the District and 852,000 nationwide, local authors Sarah Becker and Donna Glenn spotted an audience for a book on effective management in nonprofit, volunteer organizations: Off Your Duffs & Up the Assets: Common Sense For Non-profit Managers (Farnsworth Publishing Co., $14.95). Says Becker, "We estimate that $8 billion in charitable revenues is lost annually through poor management, money that potentially can be recovered through improved management practices. The book is intended to help the individual manage his or her nonprofit organization smarter, easier and better -- whether or not the reader is a complete novice, seasoned volunteer or professional nonprofit manager."