Students Lack Access to Computer Science Learning

Tech
Posted By Terri Williams on January 8, 2016 at 12:22 pm
Students Lack Access to Computer Science Learning

Computer science is one of the most promising job fields in the 21st century.  A recent GoodCall article reported that it has the highest job offer rate of all STEM careers, and the median average salary for recent college grads with a computer science-related degree is $55,576.

However, America may have a problem filling the demand for these employees if a significant portion of students is hindered by a steep learning curve, as a result of delayed exposure to computer science.

According to a recent Gallup report, many students are not gaining foundational computer science skills in school. The report reveals:

  • 40% of U.S. middle and high school students report using computers every day at school
  • 58% of students in grades 7 through 12 say their school offers dedicated computer science classes
  • 52% report that computer science is taught as part of other classes at their school
  • 43% say their school sponsors a computer science group or club
  • 25% report they don’t have access to a computer science class or club at school

The report also reveals disparities in access and differing opinions among parents, teachers, and administrators regarding the importance of computer science. For instance:

  • 66% of parents with children in the seventh through 12th grades say students should be required to learn computer science. Low-income parents are even more likely to agree, since their children are more likely to lack access.
  • 80% of parents say computer science is as important as math and English.
  • 7% of principals and 6% of superintendents say that demand for computer science is high among parents in their school or their school district.
  • 23% of teachers, 24% of principals, and 29% of superintendents agree or strongly agree that teaching computer science is a top priority at their school or school district.
  • Among schools that offer computer science, 47% say that fundamentals, like coding and computer programming, are part of the coursework.

Implications

A lack of computer science fundamentals can be detrimental to students in particular, and the country in general. “Equity in digital learning remains an issue and despite widespread connectivity, a majority of schools and libraries lack the bandwidth to drive digital learning,” says Jonathan Zaff, executive director of the Center for Promise, the research institute of America’s Promise Alliance, an organization that focuses on raising graduation rates and increasing classroom access to technology.

Zaff tells GoodCall, “While digital learning is supposed to be a tool for helping to bridge the economic divide, the fact remains that several communities and homes, especially in rural and disadvantaged neighborhoods around the country, lack the ability to either afford the digital devices or resources to properly use them.” When schools don’t have the right classes, instructors and physical resources, Zaff warns students may lose valuable time developing a computer science skill set, which in turn, may undermine their chances for success in college and beyond.

Elie Venezky, author, app developer, and educational director of Prestige Prep Tutoring in New York City, was recently nominated for a World Technology Network Award in Education. He tells GoodCall, “A large and growing percent of jobs now require at least minimal computer science ability. Not teaching students these lessons is leaving them at a severe disadvantage for the future. Making computer programming part of every student’s core curriculum is the way forward, and anything less is a disservice.”

And because technology has become such an essential part of our daily lives, Nimit Maru, co-founder of New York City-based Fullstack Academy (a software development school) and Grace Hopper Academy (a software engineering school for females that has no upfront tuition), says the ability to code is the must-have skill of the future.

“If access to CS education continues to be limited in middle schools and high schools, I think we’ll see many young adults heading to college and, eventually, the workforce without the skills they need to succeed,” warns Maru. He says that computer science has to be a part of the core curriculum. “It’s vital for the success of the young generation, and the United States as a whole.”

Signs of hope

Learning computer science is like learning a second language,” says Maru. “Our passion has always been in mentorship and teaching students to apply coding in fun and innovative ways that make a difference in their own lives, which in turn makes programming more accessible and tangible.”

Maru believes that workshops and video tutorials can help engage beginners and show them that even if they’re not computer-savvy, they can still use code to create games or useful resources. He also believes that teaching more grade-school instructors the fundamentals of programming can increase computer science education access.

Michigan Technological University is one higher education institution that is committed to bringing computer science into public schools. Each year, the school participates in Hour of Code, a global event highlighting the importance of getting students involved in coding. Computer science faculty and students from Michigan Tech go to local elementary and high school classrooms to share the excitement of coding.

“Coding is fun, challenging, but well within students’ grasp, and it’s a great outlet for personal creativity,” Charles Wallace, associate professor of computer science at Michigan Tech, tells GoodCall. “Also, coding and computing skills are in huge demand worldwide, and students are preparing for exciting and productive futures by developing these skills.”

Many students can benefit from the efforts of Fullstack Academy, Grace Hopper Academy, and MTU. But to reach the majority of students requires a shift in priorities among elementary and high schools, and a nationwide commitment to provide the resources needed to develop a strong computer science pipeline.

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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