The Representation Divide in Education, the Digital Equity Series

The fourth and final digital divide, as featured in our digital equity whitepaper, is in reference to representation in the online learning content, technology industry, and computer science workforce. 

In order to feel a sense of belonging, connection to the learning, and empowerment to pursue advanced academics and employment, diversity and representation are necessary. 

In an article by Kevin Clark in the Journal of Children and Media, he explains:  

“The digital divide will not be truly closed until the content available reflects the full spectrum of our experiences and perspectives, so that fathers and mothers of all hues and demographic categories have access to books, videos, websites, and a whole host of media created by and containing characters who look like their daughters and sons.”  

As more students gain access to technology and engage in online learning, it is essential that they are exposed to content that promotes inclusivity, showcases representation, and is accessible to all students. Especially in STEM and computer science contexts, special considerations need to be made to ensure that learning represents all students, even when the fields may lag in this. 

A Computer Science Case Study 

To illustrate the lack of diversity and representation, the following section will examine the computer science field as an example. In the industry:


Built on long-standing social barriers, this lack of representation skews female and minorities’ self-perception and whether they feel a sense of belonging in the field, which all halt their interest and advancement. And this lack of representation impacts everyone, especially when it comes to building an adequate computer science pipeline, developing accessible technology, and closing socioeconomic divides like the wealth gap. 

Pipeline Build: Half of all new jobs in STEM are in computing. Now in 2020, unfilled computer science positions reach over one million with only eight percent of college graduates in STEM electing to major in computer science. From a purely numbers standpoint, the more students who are exposed and encouraged to pursue computer science will help to temper the insufficient computer science pipeline. 

Technology Accessibility: The design and function of technology is biased toward those developing it. For example, speech recognition software with smart speakers is more likely to understand men than women, and the same is true for people with accents. Another example is that facial recognition software repeatedly fails to recognize women and people of color, which again is in part due to the gender and race of those designing it. 

Wealth Gaps: Finally, greater equity in the computer science workforce will also help to close gender and racial wealth gaps by enabling these groups to access higher incomes that empowers them, their family, and their community. 

In Support of Representation 

To remedy these divides, it’s essential that students have access to computer science and technology-driven learning experiences. For example, a study by Computer Science Education Week found that the likelihood women will major in computer science increases tenfold when they are enrolled in AP Computer Science, and Black and Latinx students are seven times more likely to major in it. Moreover, it’s essential to help students reach these more advanced computer science courses. 

In order to do so, schools need to overcome the middle school cliff, which is where female and minority students often drop out of STEM courses. Starting at a younger age, instruction must break through these stereotypes to help overcome this notorious hurdle that prevents students from delving into more advanced classes and building skills in computer science.  

Beyond reaching younger students, progress will also require curriculum be inclusive and representative. Some strategies include: 

  • Finding content that features the work of diverse people in the field 
  • Hosting all-female camps, clubs, or other learning experiences 
  • Bringing in diverse speakers, whether in person or through skype 
  • Taking students on field trips to local businesses. 

representation in computer science meme

Following these strategies will help overcome the representation divide in instructional content by promoting inclusivity throughout the learning experience. 

Cultivating Inclusivity: Charleston County School District

Educator: John Patrick Shell
  Position: Gateway to Technology instructor
  District: Charleston County School District
  Location: Charleston County, South Carolina  

John Patrick Shell is an engineering teacher in CE Williams Middle School’s career readiness program. In this role, he endeavors to immerse students in real-world learning experiences, impart essential career-ready skills, and inspire students with the opportunities available within STEM. To make technology-based learning experiences more inclusive and ensure students can see themselves in the STEM field, he invites experts into class, takes students on field trips to regional businesses, and offers an all-female robotics camp. Read more about John Shell’s work.

“Students are able to use the technology to learn, create, and build. They use the technology to reach the highest level of Bloom’s Taxonomy. This experience redefines what students are able to see and do with technology in the classroom.” 

John Patrick Shell 

Insights By

Anna McVeigh-Murphy

Anna is equip’s managing editor, though she also likes to dabble in writing from time to time. Anna is passionate about helping educators leverage technology to connect with and learn from each other. In pursuing digital learning communities, she has worked with several hundred educators to tell their stories and share their insights via online publications. Outside of this, she has also led professional development for teachers in both English and Arabic and served as the primary editor for several university professors writing both book chapters and journal articles. Anna is also an avid baker and self-described gluten enthusiast, a staunch defender of the oxford comma, and a proud dog mom to two adorable rescue pups.

End of page. Back to Top