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Utah has made computer science education a 'key priority,' Sarah Young says

Already, the state allows computer science to count toward students' graduation requirements for the sciences, she told EdScoop TV.

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For a glimpse into the future of computer science education, Utah might be a good place to look.

Educational technology leaders there have made it a “key priority” to bring computer science to every student in every school across the state, said Sarah Young, the coordinator for digital teaching and learning at the Utah State Board of Education.

“And I don’t think it’s just in Utah. It’s definitely happening all across the nation,” Young said in an interview with EdScoop TV at the recent State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) Leadership Summit. “We see different leaders and organizations stepping out on that.”

But unlike most states, Utah is carving out a place in the curriculum for computer science. Currently, computer science is housed in the career and technical education department, but leaders at the state board of education want it to become more available at every level.

“Our goal is we want that class and suite of classes to be available in every single high school. And then from that, also having exposure in touch points for computer science in the middle schools and the elementary schools,” Young said. “The class exists, we just want to [make] it accessible to our kids.”

Already, Utah allows computer science to count toward the state’s graduation requirements for science, right alongside courses like chemistry, biology, physics and earth science, Young said. “I think it’s those steps forward that help our schools and our counselors to be able to encourage kids to go that direction,” she said.

One of the biggest challenges with computer science education, Young said, is teacher training. Because computer science is a relatively new field, the teacher population equipped to offer those classes is quite small.

“So that’s our job, as leaders — to be able to support those teachers in getting training so we can have that opportunity for our kids,” she said.

At the same gathering of state edtech leaders, Hadi Partovi, founder and CEO of Code.org and keynote speaker at the event, told EdScoop he thinks 100 percent of computer science funding in education should be spent on teacher training.

“Not because other things aren’t necessary, but because most of those other things fall into place once you focus on the professional development for teachers,” he said.

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