How IT directors can promote computer programming in low-income school districts


Coding has become an invaluable 21st century skill. But many students in low-income K-12 school districts still have little-to-no access to computer programming instruction.

IT directors can certainly play a part in remedying this chasm, but to understand it, let’s dig deeper into the issue.

While there is some contention as to whether a computer science “skills gap” truly exists, there is no questioning the demand for — and marketability of — STEM skills, including coding skills. Not only does training in computer programming give learners leverage in the job market, it hones critical thinking, problem-solving, math and processing skills.

Unfortunately, many school districts don’t offer computer science programs or courses — and of those that do, some still fail to help students reach an adequate level for real-world applications. This is especially problematic for female and minority students — demographics that are currently underrepresented in many STEM fields. And it’s all the more problematic at low-income school districts, which are struggling to find the resources and strategies necessary to endow students with the tools needed to compete in a tech-centric market.

If we, as a society, want to strive for greater equity, some drastic changes are needed.

Generation Alpha, or anyone born after 2010, will face a number of unique challenges; determining their place in the job market of the future will be among the most serious hurdles. Given rapid technological advancements in robotics and automation, low-income workers will be prone to losing their jobs in the near future. K-12 schools can combat this problem by giving students in low-income communities the skills needed to pursue future-proof, 21st century jobs.

Policies to support coding instruction

While district leaders and faculty all play important roles in fostering programming instruction, IT directors play an essential role.

Finding new technologies and determining the best way to implement them is only half the battle; school IT leaders must first grasp the priorities of the school district and determine which policies will help administrators, teachers and students make substantive, measurable progress toward district goals.

Because the real-world applications of coding instruction may not be immediately clear to some families, there may be some reluctance, or even resistance, on the part of the community when it comes to taking coding instruction seriously. A great way to earn the trust and respect of your community is to earnestly discuss the importance of such instruction with families.

IT directors should investigate summer immersion programs, such as those offered by Girls Who Code, that strive to teach coding basics and demonstrate how coding skills and computer science can translate to future careers.

Furthermore, because effective instruction requires well-trained teachers, IT directors also should also help identify appropriate training and professional development programs. Given constant advancements in software development and pedagogy, continued education is essential to keep a pulse on current issues and provide the best instruction possible.

As founder and CEO Hadi Partovi recently told EdScoop, professional development for teachers is one of the most cost-effective methods for improving access to computer science education. Devoting resources to professional development is one of the most significant and worthwhile investments you can make in your teachers and students.

Tech innovations for computer science education

If you’re trying to determine how to allocate resources, consider some of the affordable options available that can further coding instruction and offer direction on how best to engage students and decide which programming languages they should learn.

These versatile products and services can serve as guides and powerful tools in a programming curriculum:

  • Raspberry Pi: This credit-card-sized Linux device has proven to be a huge hit with the development community. It is an educational tool for learners looking to get more involved with coding. The Model B Raspberry Pi runs for only $35 and comes preloaded with Python and IDLE 3. It serves as the perfect playground for beginning coders.
  • Parallella: A pricier alternative to the Raspberry Pi at $99, the Parallella Board uses the Epiphany III co-processor, making for a much more powerful computer. Intermediate-to-advanced users can use the preloaded open-source software to learn the basics of parallel programming, an increasingly essential skill in coding today.
  • Codecademy: Educators looking to offer students interactive, free tutorials on coding — including programming languages like Python, Java, Javascript, PHP, Ruby, SQL, HTML, CSS and more — need look no further than Codecademy. With over 25 million users, this platform has a helpful and enthusiastic community of coding beginners and experts alike.
  • freeCodeCamp: Students looking to join a supportive, active community of coders and practice outside of the classroom should be encouraged to explore freeCodeCamp. This free service allows learners to grasp the basics of coding, earn certificates for their accomplishments and earn invaluable experience — all while helping nonprofit organizations.

These are a few ideas and resources IT directors should keep in mind when assessing a school district’s approach to coding instruction. This increasingly valuable skillset can benefit every student in low-income communities by giving them marketable skills. Furthermore, even if an individual has no interest in pursuing a STEM career, the fundamental critical thinking skills that students pick up indirectly can be a boon to any learner.

Bob Hand writes regularly from Boise, Idaho, on the way that
teachers use technology in the classroom. His studies at the University of
South Carolina and his experiences at high schools across the state allowed him greater insight into current edtech issues.