Computer science is a field of study that while widely used, is not well understood without some education. Parents desire the best education possible for their child, including getting the most out of their education by encouraging pursuit in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). For the past several years across the United States there has been a new discussion in what classes should and should not be required. Some say that requiring such classes will be too much of a burden or an unrealistic ideal, while others say that requiring them will have a number of long-lasting and wide-reaching benefits. With the computing and engineering fields growing quickly, many have asked if schools should start requiring computer science classes in K-12 education. Incorporating required computer science (CS) classes from an early age will foster better educators, include a greater diversity of enthusiastic students, and lead to continued interest and greater knowledge of modern STEM fields.
In the article, “The Danger of Requiring Computer Science in K-12 Schools”, author Mark Guzdial comments on President Obama’s Computer Science for All initiative, which calls for more funding and expansion of computer science programs (Smith). Guzdial has several main concerns when it comes to requiring computer science rather than keeping it as an elective curriculum in K-12 education. He states that we do not know how to initiate and regulate required curriculum, there are not enough teachers for all schools, teachers are not qualified to teach, and that some students would be left behind in such classes. In his view, it would be better to require computer science education at the college level, rather than primary and secondary education level (Guzdial). While his concerns are valid, there are many resources to allay his fears to ensure that computer science education is beneficial and accessible for all.
In order to initiate a computer science curriculum in primary and secondary education, it is necessary to come forth with a model that could be implemented. According to Allen B. Tucker, Chair of the Computer Science Department at Bowdoin College, a proper framework is needed in order create more public understanding of computer science, but also to encourage people to pursue related careers- including teaching. Critics such as Guzdial would do well to consider education models such as Tucker’s four level educational goal proposal as relayed in his journal article, “A New K-12 Computer Science Curriculum”.
In Tucker’s journal article computer science can begin in grades kindergarten to eighth, with very simple concepts to serve as a basis for later learning. These basic concepts include teaching algorithmic thinking through hands-on experiences utilizing toys. In grade 9 or 10 students would begin the second level of Tucker’s plan, which would expand on the initial principles and methodologies of computer science that were learned in the first level. He states, “For many students, this course will be their last encounter with computer science. Therefore, it should be considered essential preparation for the modern world.”. The third level begins at grade 10 or 11. At this level he suggests that electives could be offered to place more specific aspects of computer and software engineering and science. These would include going deeper into mathematical principles, algorithms, and problem solving. At the fourth level in grade 11 or 12, schools could offer in-depth studies of particular areas of computer science, or Advanced Placement (AP) courses of data structures and programming. In this way students will begin with an excellent base to build future skills, and encourage problem-solving ability. Furthermore, when computer science education is begun at a younger age, it will create a better understanding of the subject and encourage people to enter computer-related career paths (Tucker 16).
In order for goals like this to be achieved, Tucker states “…teachers must acquire both a mastery of the subject matter and the pedagogical skills that will enable them to present the material to students at appropriate levels.” One way would be to develop certifications or minimum requirements of computer science classes for higher-education students pursuing elementary education degrees. For current teachers, summer workshops and training sessions could be made available to receive certifications. Tucker suggests having states create core competencies for teachers to accomplish before being able to teach computer science classes as well. In this way, teachers will be able to know the difference between IT skills and computer science, and be able to develop their curriculum from there (Tucker 16). Currently, the “Computer Science for All” initiative is encouraging educators to take advantage of CNCS AmeriCorps computer science program and CS Teacher Institutes (Smith). In addition, private companies and non-profit organizations can get involved to encourage a beginning education of companies. Examples of some of these ideas can already be found, such as in Eric Westerville’s National Public Radio report, “A Push to Boost Computer Science Learning, Even at an Early Age”. Here, children as young as five years old can learn basic coding functions such as loops, functions, conditions, and debugging through simple drag-and-drop games created by the start-up Kodable, and participation events with “The Hour of Code” by the non-profit organization Code.org (Westervelt). The greater access teachers have, the smoother of a transition it will be into creating an informative and fulfilling computer science curriculum for their students.
There are many steps parents and teachers can take to encourage diversity not only in their CS classes, but later on in STEM fields. Girls and children of color are essential in improving the lack of diversity in STEM fields at the adult level. 93% of American teens use the internet, despite that fact there has been a 93% decrease in women pursuing CS majors (Heo and Myrick 44+). In addition, a mere 22% of students taking AP computer science exams are girls, and only 13% are African-American or Latinx. Most major tech companies have less than one third of their employees in technical positions, and African-American were found to be less than three percent (Smith). Part of this comes from negative perceptions of computer science that begin at a young age or lack of experience with computers. Computer science is seen as a white male-dominated field where women and people of color are unwelcomed. In addition, there is a lack of significant successful mentors available for such students (Heo and Myrick 44+). In my own experience as a student pursuing an education in computer-related fields, my skills and capability have been more often questioned predominantly by white men. According to “The Girl’s Computing Club” by Misook Heo and L. Monique Myrick, the percentage of female students entering undergraduate programs jumped from 0 to 18% at Carnegie Melon, just by encouraging local high school teachers to teach C++ in their courses. Heo and Myric also conducted a study of five female students taking part in an after-school computing club. During their study the students reported a greater interest in computer science majors and greater confidence in their ability. Clearly, the earlier and more proactively these students are exposed to computer science, the more likely they will pursue CS during higher education.
At present, it is estimated that only 10% of K-12 public schools even offer any sort of computer science education, regardless of it being compulsory or an elective. Only 14 states thus far have adopted standards at the secondary school level for computer science. At the same time, we are projected that we will have 1 million more jobs in the tech sector than graduates to fill them in the next ten years (Westervelt). There is a dire need for computer science education in our primary and secondary schools in order to gain awareness and interest in these jobs to help end the rising shortage of computer specialists. Children begin using computers and technology with software nearly as soon as they can walk, and it is imperative that future generations have a basic understanding of what they’re using and how it works. With education of teachers, a broader approach of CS education for students that begins as young as kindergarten to inspire and embolden them in new ways, and increase not only the diversity of our computer fields, but also help fulfill the worldwide shortage of those pursuing those goals. As with President Obama’s initiative, computer science really can be for everyone.