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Tech experts sound the alarm on computer science classes

Computer science leads to promising careers, but many students are not being taught the skills, said experts who want to close the gap.

Darlene Aderoju
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Darlene Aderoju
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Panelists at Center for American Progress Skills for the Future: The Case for K-12 Computer Science Education event. (EdScoop)

Computer science is a rapidly growing, high-paid job market – but only 9 percent of high schools offer advanced placement computer science classes to students.

The Center for American Progress on Wednesday hosted a panel discussion, "Skills for the Future: The Case for K-12 Computer Science Education," to address the issue. Experts in the field presented what they feel are the best solutions.

“We want to grow our economy. We need workers that can move innovation forward," said Ruthe Farmer, senior policy adviser for tech inclusion at the Executive Office of the President. "If we want to grow economically, we need an educated workforce that can do these jobs. Our kids need to have these skills and have the option of learning computer science."

There will be an expected 1.4 million computer science jobs available by 2020 and only 400,000 computer scientists to fill them, the panelists agreed that there is opportunity for growth in the U.S. economy if more students can access these skills. The panelists also emphasized that computing skills are not only needed in the tech industry, but also in in jobs ranging from retail to medicine to law enforcement.

Students who studied computer science in college have the highest starting salary post-graduation, according to Catherine Brown, vice president of education policy at the Center for American Progress. But not all students have equal access to the field.

Children using a Code.org program. (Code.org)

Just four years ago, women received 18 percent of all computer science degrees, the lowest percentage of all STEM fields. In high school, even fewer minority students take the AP computer science exam – only 22 percent of the students are female, 10 percent are Hispanic and less than 4 percent are African-American.

“I see computer science as the fourth “R” of reading, writing and arithmetic," said Jamika Burge, a director of assessment technology product and research for the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. "We have to be broadly thinking and inclusive in the ways we teach computer science.”

While the panelists want to see a push for the subject to be fully integrated into schools' core curricula and embedded into STEM, Fred Humphries, corporate vice president of U.S. Government Affairs at Microsoft, understands that, in order for this to happen, teachers need training.

“There’s a training component that a lot of schools are lacking, unfortunately, so we’re trying to make a difference, because a lot of schools do not allow computer science to count as a core requirement,” Humphries said.

He added that Microsoft has teamed up with other organizations to get more statewide support for the computer science initiative. When they started their outreach, only nine states joined. Now, 30 states are on board.

Hadi Partovi, founder of Code.org, said his calling is to address this issue.

“It is my life mission to help solve this problem," Partovi said. "Code.org is helping students bring computer science to schools and, more importantly, giving teachers the training. By far the biggest problem is that there aren’t enough teachers that are able to teach this skill.”

Partovi said that when kids are given the chance to take them, computer science classes always register higher enrollment numbers than expected.

Nearly half of students who take Code.org classes receive free or reduced lunch at school, Partovi said.

“These kids basically can’t afford lunch, but are now taking a course that may lead to the best paying jobs in the country," he said. "If you look at the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world, almost all of them came from upper-middle-class backgrounds, because those are the only schools and environments that even get exposed to this field.”

Reach the reporter at darlene.aderoju@edscoop.com and follower her on twitter @buuukky.

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Education IT News, STEM, computer science for all

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