By 2020, there will be over one million computer science related jobs available. This number comes from the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, which names computer science-related fields as the fastest growing careers. Yet, in the state of Massachusetts, where K-12 TechDecisions is based, only 120 schools teach computer science and the schools that do offer those courses do not count computer science as a math or a science credit. There’s no clear pathway to becoming a certified computer science teacher and no standard for computer science curriculum. Massachusetts isn’t alone. The stats are similar across the U.S. with some states faring better than others.
“If you go back hundreds of years and look at reading and writing, those were skills for the elite. Only some people had the privilege to read and write, ” says Jeremy Keeshin, co-founder, CodeHS. “It was a gate blocking opportunities and coding is that skill now.”
Whether or not children are interested in becoming computer programmers, it’s highly likely their future careers will require them to work with and understand technology at an even higher level than today’s workforce. The act of coding also reinforces skills critical to success in any field.
“It has very little to do with trying to make kids into hackers and computer geeks. It has to do with the problem solving and the creativity that goes on,” says Randy Rodgers, director of Digital Learning Services, Seguin Independent School District. Over the past two years, Rodgers has worked to provide students in his district with opportunities to learn coding though coursework, summer camps and after school programs. He’s found a major benefit to coding is the propensity for failure.
“It’s a great opportunity for kids to diagnose problems and to work out solutions,” he says.
Not to mention, coding can’t be automated away. Keeshin points out that we increasingly hear of jobs that used to be performed by humans now being automated and controlled by computers. A computer still requires a human to tell it what to do, meaning the ability to code offers job security in a sense. It’s no surprise then the White House has joined in Silicon Valley’s rallying cry for a greater emphasis on computer science education in K-12 with President Obama even participating in the annual “Hour of Code.”
Most schools understand the benefits of computer science education, but the ability to deliver that education is an entirely different story. No two districts are alike. Some K-12 schools may have the resources to hire additional computer science teachers to implement a coding course and purchase new curriculum materials. Other schools may not even have enough computers for an entire class of students or may lack the expertise to offer coding education. Fortunately, there are tools out there to help schools get started regardless of where they stand in terms of resources and ability.
CodeHS offers what it calls a “class in a box.” The company provides schools with a web-based curriculum meant to teach coding to computer science beginners. The platform offers teacher tools like a gradebook, auto-grading, lesson plans and training to get instructors up to speed even if they have no background in coding at all. Schools have the option of running a free trial before purchasing the CodeHS curriculum. It can be used in one class or throughout the district.