Non-profit teaching computer science to girls from kindergarten up

The gender gap is widening in computer science jobs, but Code.org hopes to change that by getting girls interested in the field long before high school and college. 60 Minutes reports, Sunday at 7 p.m. ET/PT

Computer science for kindergarteners

Women comprise nearly half the American workforce but hold just a quarter of its computing jobs. And this gap continues to widen, despite the best efforts of foundations and universities to attract women to technology jobs, and even as computing jobs are increasing so fast that there are 500,000 open positions. But one non-profit, Code.org, is reaching girls at younger ages in hopes that an earlier start will create the deeper roots needed to keep them on the tech track now dominated by their male classmates. Sharyn Alfonsi reports on the computer science gender gap on the next edition of 60 Minutes, Sunday, March 3 at 7:00 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.  

"Many of the efforts to get women into computer science, I think, start late," says Hadi Partovi, who co-founded Code.org. Born in Iran, Partovi came to America and launched two successful tech start-ups after working for Microsoft. He is trying to get girls exposed to science, technology, engineering and math, the so-called STEM subjects, before middle school. "Middle school is roughly when girls traditionally drop out of STEM fields. And for computer science, they've not even been exposed to it at that young age in many cases. And that's when we need to start," he tells Alfonsi.

Code.org aims to begin teaching computer science to all children as early as kindergarten. Five years after it started, Partovi says 25 percent of American schoolchildren have an account on Code.org. "What's even more incredible is among the 11-year-olds, the ten and 11-year-olds… two-thirds of all American students have an account on Code.org.," he says.

"We now have over ten million girls coding on Code.org," says Partovi. He says that if just 1 percent of the girls in the program become computer science majors, many universities will have a 50/50 gender balance in the discipline within a decade. This would be a big step toward narrowing the gender gap in the fast-growing and high-paying computer science workplace.

Alfonsi also speaks to Microsoft executive Bonnie Ross, whose company has thousands of open jobs. Ross says connecting creativity to STEM subjects is a key way to interest girls. "Of the girls we've talked to, 91 percent of them feel that they are creative, they identify with being creative. But when asked about computer science, they don't see computer science as creative."

At Marymount School of New York, Alfonsi reports on a program that stresses the creative aspects of the STEM subjects, and encourages students to make original inventions using electronic building blocks call LittleBits.