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How Kittens are Teaching Girls to Code (and to Run the World)

“A study by the WISE campaign showed that if girls aren't interested in STEM by age 11, they're unlikely to ever be interested. This is why we built Erase All Kittens.” —Priya Nirmal, Chief of Creative Coding, Erase All Kittens

Erase All Kittens (E.A.K.) is the first game designed to inspire girls to code with professional languages like HTML and CSS, all through a highly gamified and story-driven environment. 

“We found that boys are encouraged to try harder at STEM subjects, and girls are discouraged through unconscious biases,” said Priya at the Solve Challenge Finals in September 2017. 

“We don’t want to see one more girl afraid of learning to code, so we designed E.A.K. to eliminate these fears. Players are encouraged to fix mistakes and keep going instead of giving up.”

The aim of the game—to save kittens in a fantasy internet universe—is created to make it feel like play rather than a coding education tool. As the players progress, they can edit the code that governs the game environment, building and fixing new levels to save kittens in a fantasy internet universe. Players see instant results as they code, and the learning experience is seamlessly blended with storytelling.

Employment in STEM is growing faster than employment in all other occupations—with higher than average salaries. Yet, women are underrepresented in STEM jobs. In the U.S. for example, women make up only 24 percent of STEM workers according to the Department of Commerce. Erase All Kittens holds one of the keys to ensuring those changes in the job market don’t worsen the inequality among genders in the workplace.  

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Developed specifically for girls ages eight to 13, the creators of E.A.K. want to completely transform how girls perceive coding and to empower them with real-world skills. They spent 18 months researching their target users, interviewing hundreds of girls and analyzing the most popular cartoons, games and books. 

This research paid off. Today, E.A.K. has 120,000 players in over 100 countries. Of the active players, 55 percent of them are girls. And according to E.A.K., their 12,000 feedback forms show that 95 percent of players want to learn more about coding after playing the game. 

What’s next? E.A.K. aims to positively impact the lives of 1 million girls by 2019. The game is already being played in over 100 countries in partnerships with Microsoft Education, Apps for Good and CoderDojo. The team is hoping to set up a one-for-one initiativefor every E.A.K. account purchased, one will be donated to a girl in the Middle East or India through NGO partners.

After a successful Kickstarter campaign, E.A.K. recently partnered with Playerthree to develop the iPad version of the game, building levels to teach HTML, CSS and Javascript. With additional funding, E.A.K. plans to donate 2,500 accounts to girls' schools in the Middle East and India, and have its game and lesson plans translated into Arabic and Hindi. In March of this year, the team will launch "E.A.K. Academy for Girls," consisting of creative coding workshops and mini hackathons for underprivileged girls aged eight to 13, in partnership with organizations including IT-Advice and Techfugees

Currently in the pilot phase, E.A.K. will soon be looking at raising funds from investors in the U.S. and hopes that the Solve community can provide further resources and expertise in the areas of code education, education software distribution and international business development.  

In September, E.A.K. was selected as a Solver in the Women and Technology Challenge. It was also chosen to receive the Arts and Culture Mentorship Prize curated by Yo-Yo Ma.

Watch Priya Nirmal as she pitches Erase All Kittens at the Solve Challenge Finals in September 2017 before becoming a Solver:

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Priya Nirmal pitches Erase All Kittens at the Solve Challenge Finals in the Women and Technology Challenge, September 17, 2017. (Photo by Samuel Stuart / MIT Solve)

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