Considering the short time allotted for the event, many important points were touched upon during the discussion. From industry’s side, the significant need for more people to engage in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and CS (computer science) opportunities during their K-12 years in order to fill the ever-growing number of jobs that require qualified people. This included military and government needs as well as private industry.
From the educator side, there was commentary on work for high school computer science courses be accepted as a way to fulfill core requirements for graduation and discussion of discrete versus integrated teaching of computer science concepts. In addition, there was conversation related to the challenges of messaging to students and parents on computer science, the stereotypes of what computer science is and simply having students and parents understand the breadth of careers that can benefit from this type of learning.
As an educator involved in STEAM and computer science integration, the discussion was relevant and engaging for me. It also highlighted the multiple stakeholders and the complexity of the topic. However, I didn't necessarily hear new information but rather the continued conversation on the needs and challenges to make digital literacy and computer science fundamentals be considered basic skills versus “nice to know about” subject matter in our educational system.
While I agree this is a “marathon” versus a “sprint” to work on in education, the need for ensuring we expose students to computer science and certain ways of thinking is a great need now. Our society’s economy and the ability to thrive is becoming increasingly challenged to maintain without proper funding for education in truly relevant learning for today and tomorrow’s workforce. Our ability to grow and sustain a healthy U.S. economy is directly dependent on the educational opportunities that is provided to the 6,220,4153 students enrolled in California public schools (Fingertip Facts on California Education).
We are technically in the 4th Industrial Revolution. You may have already felt this shift in our society or read about it in the news. It is a time of great excitement, innovation and breakthroughs in many aspects of our lives, but with that comes fundamental needs and changes in our schools to bring our world to the next level. When you hear about people having their jobs disappear and not having skills that can transfer to other areas, it is tied to this global, technological evolution.
The job market is changing at a dizzying speed. By 2030, 50% of current jobs will no longer exist. Educators are preparing students for jobs that have yet to be created (SMCOE CTE Center, 2017). A student currently in elementary school will be entering a very different workforce landscape. In these rapidly changing times where technology dominates everything, new skills and ways of how to think are needed in order for students of today to be prepared for success in a new type of workforce. These skills are not just applicable to specific fields but for many different ones. We cannot stop change and technology, but we can adapt and modify our foci to be an education that will help the future of our world grow in positive, healthy and innovative ways, one that is practical and applicable to our economy. One such way is by giving access and equitable learning to all students in the language of computer science.
In industry, we are at a point where the technology has currently surpassed our ability to use it to its full potential. We have the tools but we do not have enough people that know how to interact with these tools or know the right kinds of questions to ask to help us solve large, complex problems that affect not only our country, but our world. This is why it is vital that we give access to all of our students these experiences. Not only do we literally need more people involved in these fields, but we need a diversity of backgrounds, minds and experiences to ensure that major industries shaping society are not solely reliant on one type of person or gender.
What skills related to CS are relevant for today’s student?
- Understanding large data sets/ data analysis
- Understanding fundamental programming languages such as html, python, and other core languages and the ability to interact with them
- Understanding of technology network structures
- The ability to creatively approach a problem that doesn’t have a concrete answer
- The ability to utilize computational thinking processes to approach complex issues
- Being a flexible learner, the ability to adapt well to new things
- Being able to work collaboratively as a group. Computer science (along with many other areas our lives) thrives on being able to work as a team.
What are direct challenges?
Funding. When is it not funding, right? Lawmakers in California support the idea of computer science education, but the conversation about how to fund it quickly becomes nebulous. Training and professional development for teachers in computer science fundamentals is a great need. Most teachers do not come from a computer science or engineering background. Teachers are wonderful in that they will do what is best for their students but without the ability to fund their training or time to learn, this becomes problematic.
Vision: It is difficult enough to navigate the many standards and requirements placed upon districts. How do you teach it all in a 6 1/2 hour day? How can computer science skills be integrated into other core subjects in a way that is understandable for teachers to embrace?
Stereotypes/Role Models. Much like the stereotypes that have been placed on women over the decades in advertisements and media, so are there stereotypes of those involved in computer science. Look no further than HBO’s Silicon Valley as an example. Often a socially awkward, white male comes to mind as the typical programmer, bent over a computer for hours at a time in isolation or in a small group of similar folks talking technical jargon. Other stereotypes come from teachers who perceive certain students, often white males, as naturally gifted in the area. The reality is often the child has had the opportunity to learn CS fundamentals outside of school or has a parent who knows CS.
Messaging: If you asked someone on the street what they thought computer science was, what would they say? Educating parents and students on the benefits of CS fundamentals and STEM experiences can open opportunities that were simply not known to them. As an example, a survey conducted of 956 early- and mid-career, Black, Latino and Native American professionals found that “a lack of career information (was) the driving reason preventing STEM and non-STEM majors from pursuing careers in tech.” (Study: Tech Workforce's Lack of Diversity goes Deeper than Pipeline)
Support. I have heard numerous stories from women and underrepresented people in STEM related fields about their journey. Many times, there was a person, an organization or experience that changed their trajectory or opened up a world they did not previously consider for themselves. If we do not encourage and support children to take risks, persevere and try new things, we are doing a disservice to them and to our global community.
What Can You Do?
As a parent, educator or a general taxpayer, you can help. Your voice matters!
Contact your local government official - Whether it is an assembly person, senator or governor, your voice can help guide and push the conversation with policy makers forward.
Learn about your local school district’s vision - Attend a monthly public board meeting and inquire about their goals for computer science and STE(A)M learning opportunities during the school day or email your local school board.
Connect your skills or company with a local school district - If you are in a STE(A)M related career, work at a university or for a company that has invested interests in being able to draw from a strong job pool of qualified people, consider how you can a) volunteer b) create a partnership c) donate resources/time.