Computer scientists play a central role in our technological infrastructure. They develop hardware, software and other applications for use by the military, businesses and average consumers. This has made computer science one of the fastest-growing career fields in the U.S. today, with some occupations, such as software engineer, expected to grow an estimated 22 percent from 2012 to 2022. While this means tremendous opportunity for students and young professionals interested in the field, it also means increased competition, both at the college level and in the job market.
Many experts in computer science education tout skill development before college as the key to success. Students as young as six and seven are learning the logic behind computer programs and, in some cases, how to create simple programs of their own. Yet formal computer science learning remains a rare commodity in K-12 curricula. In 2011, just five percent of high schools across the country offered an Advanced Placement test in the subject. This gap has forced students to seek computer science education elsewhere.
Young children have a natural gift for learning a foreign language. Advocates for teaching Spanish or Chinese in elementary curricula assert that kids soak up concepts and vocabulary more organically than adults. Computer programming, aka “coding”, includes very similar elements and incorporates multiple languages. Coding also facilitates student collaboration, creativity, design, presentation and problem solving skills. This has many parents asking the question: Why aren’t kids learning basic computer science and programming in school? Common Core and No Child Left Behind may seem like barriers, but alternatives exist.
Why Start in Elementary School
Teachers, administrators and principals interested in computer science and coding can look to open-source curriculum to help bring volunteer-based programs into their schools. CodeEd, a non-profit volunteer program that teaches principles of computer science and programming to girls in New York, Boston and San Francisco, starts as early as grade six. Its founders understand that an interest in computer science and an I-can-do-this attitude should be nurtured early.
Resources for Coding Basics
Many different organizations offer coding education for young children. Whether summers camp or online programs, they provide opportunities for children to develop practical computer science knowledge and skills.
Using Games to Learn
Kids in middle school love to game, whether by themselves or online. Batman, Tomb Raider and Call of Duty have made countless appearances under Christmas trees or at birthday parties. As a parent or teacher, gaming may seem a distraction from schoolwork, unless, of course, it becomes an educational opportunity.
High School and College Prep
Just 30,000 students took the Advanced Placement test in computer science in 2013, according to Education Week. Less than 20 percent of those test-takers were female, about eight percent were Hispanic and less than 3 percent were African-American. Also frightening may be that in 11 states, no African-Americans took the exam at all, and in eight states, no Hispanic students took the exam.
Recognizing the need to draw students into the field, The College Board has decided to launch a new class called AP Computer Science: Principles, set to launch in the 2016 – 2017 school year. Where offered, it will introduce students to programming, but also give them a broad understanding of computing and its many applications.