When you teach a child to use a computer, you prepare him or her for the world today. When you teach a child to code, you prepare the child for his or her future. With effective computer science (CS) instruction, the child gains a foundation for success in any 21st-century career path.
Coding is a new literacy for this century. Not all students will become software engineers, but computational literacy empowers them to think systematically and to participate fully in an increasingly technological world. Coding allows students to create, not just consume, with technology. It is an expressive medium that engages students not just intellectually, but emotionally and socially as well. Yet equitable access to computer science grades K–12 instruction is lacking.
Computer science drives job growth and innovation throughout our economy and society. Computing occupations are the No. 1 source of all new wages in the U.S. and make up two-thirds of all projected new jobs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, making computer science one of the most in-demand college degrees.
• Maryland currently has 19,291 open computing jobs (4.2 times the average demand rate in Maryland).
• The average salary for a computing occupation in Maryland is $100,812, which is significantly higher than the average salary ($56,120). The existing open jobs alone represent a $1,944,764,292 opportunity in terms of annual salaries.
• Maryland had only 2,923 CS graduates in 2015; 20% were female.
• Just 1,935 high school students in Maryland took the Advanced Placement (AP) Computer Science exam in 2016: 25% were female, 129 students were Hispanic or Latino, 215 students were African-American, two students were Native American or Alaska Native, and three students were Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander.
Exposing students to STEM in action is a great way to increase the capacity and diversity of the STEM pipeline. Computer science is an essential part of STEM. Consider the following.
• 71% of all STEM jobs are in computing, but only 8% of STEM graduates are computer science majors.
• The percentage of U.S. high school students taking STEM courses has increased over the past 20 years across all STEM disciplines except CS, where it dropped from 25% to 19%.
• There are fewer AP exams taken in computer science than in any other STEM subject area.
Globally, Japan, Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, Romania and Malaysia are tackling CS education across grades K through 12. To stay competitive, the United States needs to be just as proactive. Currently, only 40% of U.S. K–12 schools offer any computer science courses.
Civic, Educational Imperative
Students who can think computationally are better able to conceptualize and understand computer-based technology. Students able to think in computational terms are more able to rationally debate about issues involving the impact of technology and make informed decisions accordingly.
With technology changing every industry, computing knowledge has become part of a well-rounded skillset. Improving access to coding instruction for all students equitably benefits them for reasons that go far beyond preparation for future careers.
CS is about more than learning to keyboard or use computer applications. To quote Hadi Partovi, founder of Code.org, “Computer science is not just vocational; it is foundational.” According to Partovi, it empowers students with thinking skills that nurture problem-solving, logic, collaboration, persistence, abstraction and creativity.
When computer science is taught well, students learn to break down problems, predict outcomes and persevere even when challenged. In other words, as students learn computational ideas through coding, they also learn to think. These skills aid in comprehending text, as well as solving mathematical problems. Research reveals that students who study computer science also perform better at math.
“CS provides an opportunity to engage with powerful ideas,” said Pat Yongpradit, chief academic officer, Code.org. Coding can be used as another medium for learning and demonstrating understanding. Yongpradit explained, “Many fear that reading, writing and math instruction (and scores) will suffer if we add one more thing to the curriculum. But CS is more than just another subject. It can serve as the glue for interdisciplinary study, which means the time we spend on it is not added, but integrated.”
Currently, rigorous computer science education is happening in a piecemeal fashion, such as in after-school clubs and select pockets of excellence in secondary schools. Yet, improvement is occurring. The number of U.S. high school students taking computer science Advanced Placement courses has increased 500% in the last seven years. With the introduction of AP Computer Science Principles (CSP) this past school year, a course that focuses on the broader aspects of computing, participation in CS skyrocketed, especially among female students and minorities.
Data collected by the College Board during the 2015–16 pilot phase of CSP reveal the following.
• African-American participation was 16% in AP CSP compared to 4% in the already-established AP Computer Science A (CSA), a course that focuses on skills related to programming in JAVA.
• Hispanic student participation was 18% in AP CSP compared to 9% in CSA.
• Girls’ participation was 28% in AP CSP compared to 22% in CSA.
Efforts to improve computer science pathways are garnering bi-partisan support. President Barack Obama brought national exposure to the CS4all movement. President Donald Trump signed a memorandum directing the Department of Education to allocate $200 million a year in grant funds to STEM and computer science. More than half of the members of the U.S. House of Representatives are hosting youth coding contests (Congressional App Challenges) in their respective districts.
Businesses are stepping up as well. Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Salesforce, Lockheed Martin, Accenture, General Motors and Quicken Loans together have committed to provide $300 million in funding for computer science education over the course of the next five years.
To be most effective, CS education needs to start in elementary school. Introducing coding in the early grades helps to demystify the discipline. As with learning any natural language (English, Spanish, etc.), students need to be exposed to the syntax and grammar of programming languages at an early age in order to become fluent in them over time.
Kathy Benson is a STEM integration consultant with ImmersiveSteam.com in Catonsville. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.