Technology Training: Fear and Hope in 2013
December 30, 2013 by Bill Rosenthal

Early in December, I wrote in this blog about a crisis in education: “In the U.S. since 2005, the number of introductory computer science courses offered in secondary schools has declined by 17 percent. The number of advanced placement computer science courses has declined by 33 percent.” According to the projections of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, we have an annual national deficit of about 70,000 bachelor’s degrees in computer science. This is a fearful situation for our national competitiveness in a global economy, for the future prosperity of our younger workers, and for information technology training.

At the same time, however, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education offers a hopeful sign. The latest report from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), which is an assessment of the performance of 15-year-olds, says that the U.S. has overcome persistent gender differences in math and science. PISA, an arm of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, has been measuring students every three years since 2000, and has consistently found a gender differential in the U.S. Logical Operations offers highly effective programs in instructor-led IT Training, so we try to watch this issue closely.

Technology Training Reporting a single assessment among a single age group, the PISA does not offer a reason to break out the champagne – yet. And a 2013 report from Change the Equation found that the proportion of women earning computing degrees has declined by half (from 36% to 18%) since 1983. So there is still a long way for us to go in erasing the gender gap in IT and therefore making IT training more equitable. But the PISA report is the first sign of hope I’ve seen on this issue in some time.

Beyond that slim hope, however, there is more good news – the first promising approach to dealing with the gender differential. Angela Duckworth, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, studies success predictors among varied populations, including students, West Point cadets, and corporate sales professionals. Among all these populations, she says, the best single predictor is grit. She found grit to predict success better than any other characteristic, even when she controlled for IQ, family income, and how safe kids felt at school. If you’re involved directly in IT training, you’re probably nodding in agreement right now.

The dictionary defines “grit” as determination or strength of character. Duckworth defines it as “passion and perseverance for very long-term goals.” The link is to a TED talk she gave about it in 2013, which could be of interest to anyone in IT training.

Duckworth says there is very little science on grit presently, but she is most hopeful that understanding will come from research on the “growth mindset.” A fellow psychologist has discovered that when kids understand they can improve their ability to learn, they demonstrate more grit. This year, the MacArthur Foundation awarded her a “genius” grant for her studies in grit and self-control. If she finds a way to consistently change students’ minds about their ability to learn science and math, there is very real hope for erasing the gender differential in STEM performance altogether, not to mention revolutionizing information technology training.