A call to action: Promoting computer science in schools

Cybersecurity professionals need to reach into their local school districts to help improve computing education.

empty classroom

No computers. No students. No future?

Credit: Stamford International University (Thailand)

Computers are everywhere. Internet of Things (IoT) is now its own thing.  (As my daughter would say, “Well duh, Captain Obvious.”)  What’s also obvious is that we need people to develop, manage, and maintain all of these computers. But where do they come from? Apparently not enough come from our traditional school systems.

Most schools teach computer literacy, but most don’t provide in-depth instruction on computer science, which underlies today’s innovations. Additionally, certain student populations don’t have ready access to computers. Improvement in schools is at a snail’s pace especially when compared to the rapid growth in technology. Supply cannot keep up with demand.

This month, Google and Gallup partnered on a study, “Searching for Computer Science: Access and Barriers in U.S. K-12 Education”.  They surveyed thousands of students, parents, teachers, principals, and superintendents on the state of computer science and technology education in U.S. schools. From the findings, parents and students are demanding more and deeper computing classes in schools, yet three-quarters of principals said their schools don’t provide it. 

The main reason their schools do not offer computer science is the limited time they have to devote to classes that are not tied to testing requirements and the low availability and budget for computer science teachers.” (p. 3) 

Access to computers is also an issue, with only four in 10 students reported using computers at school on a daily basis. Students need the exposure to computer technologies in order to work in today’s cyber economy and move to deeper understanding of computer science, programming, and information technology administration.  

google gallup survey

Source: Google / Gallup 

I encourage you to read the Google/Gallup Report, Searching for Computer Science and draw your own conclusions.

The Association of Computing Machinery (ACM) Computer Science Teaching Association (CSTA) echoes these findings in their campaign, Running on Empty: The Failure to Teach k-12 Computer Science in the Digital Age:

“As the digital age has transformed the world and workforce, U.S. K–12 education has fallen woefully behind in preparing students with the fundamental computer science knowledge and skills they need for future success.”  ACM/CSTA, “Running on Empty”

ACM/CSTA tracks fluency in Information Technology adoption rates for the United States.  On their maps, they evaluate the percentage K-12 schools are adopting IT in terms of Skills, Capabilities, and Concepts.

The US does fairly well in basic computing skills (email, word processing, general usage).

acm cst skills adoption rates

Source: ACM/CSTA

In the 21st Century, no other subject provides as many opportunities as Information Technology / Computer Science, no matter the student’s ultimate occupation. Yet, we’re failing at an international scale in providing adequate education or even exposure in these subjects. Failure is not an option, because ready or not, the technology is here.

The National Center for Women & Information Technology website Moving Beyond Computer Literacy: Why Schools Should Teach Computer Science offers additional talking points both how and why teaching computing is a must-have:

  • Provides 21st century skills necessary for innovation and translates to high-paying, in-demand jobs.
  • Differs from computer literacy.
  • Can make curriculum more relevant for students.
  • Can help educators better meet accountability goals.

A Call to Action: We need to work together to build our profession, our communities, and our next-generation of cybersecurity leaders. 

  • As professionals and parents, we must go into our school districts and ask difficult questions about how, when, and where computer science, information technology, and cybersecurity is taught in K-12 education.
  • We must demand that schools move beyond the current basic technology literacy curriculum to ensure courses based on fundamental computing principles are part of the core curriculum.
  • We need to ensure every child has access to a computer, because the only way to learn is through applicable instruction and hands-on activities.

For more information on what you can do to help solve this problem, read the Google/Gallup recommendations: Taking Action On, Searching for Computer Science.

As professionals, let’s partner with local teachers and school districts who are trying to make a difference. Help educate the educators and let them know there’s a community who cares.

Next week, I’ll provide other ways for you to get involved through computer security camps, clubs, and competitions.

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