Like millions of other Americans, in January I tuned in to President Barack Obama’s 2016 State of the Union Address.
Here’s what struck me: the President said that he didn’t simply want to talk about his last year in office. Instead, he wanted to talk about “the next five years, the next ten years, and beyond.” The topic he wanted to bring up was so important, in fact, that it represented nothing less than “our future.”
What was that topic? The extraordinary modern challenges that are “reshaping the way we live.”
One of the challenges he identified didn’t surprise me, and won’t surprise most educators either: The need for a computer-savvy workforce. We need a trained workforce, the President said, to ensure that our children can get well paying jobs. They need “hands-on computer science and math classes,” the President continued, that will make them “job-ready on day one.”
I couldn’t agree more. I firmly believe that computer science classes must become part of our regular school curriculum. Students need to be exposed to computers and technology early and often. A robust computer science curriculum should be the norm in all our schools. How else will our children be prepared for the future that is awaiting them?
Computer Science for All
Two weeks following the State of the Union Address, I heard that President Obama backed up his words with action. He released the details of a bold, new initiative designed to address our children’s need for a better computer science education. The plan, called “Computer Science for All,” is designed to provide all American students, from kindergarten through the twelfth grade, with the computer science classes they need to become the creators in our “digital economy” and active participants in “our technology-driven world,” not just the end consumers.
I was impressed to learn that the President’s plan calls for $4 billion in funding to go directly to the various states to be used to expand computer science in public schools. $100 million of that funding will go directly to individual school districts for teacher training, instructional materials and regional projects – all aimed at giving our children the state-of-the-art computer skills they will need in the coming years. Other components of the initiative include $135 million which will be made available as grants through the National Science Foundation and will fund programs with the Corporation for National and Community Service. It also calls on business owners like myself, and philanthropists and educators, as well, to deepen their commitment to computer science education.
This burgeoning industry, based on computer science, sounded to me like good news for our country and our economy. So I looked into it.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the demand for tech-related jobs is indeed exploding. Job openings for both computer information scientists and database administrators are expected to grow by 11 percent in the next ten years, that’s faster than average growth compared to other industries. Computer support specialists will see a 12 percent increase in demand. For software developers, the number jumps to 17 percent. Computer system analysts will see a 21 percent growth in job openings. Web developers will see the biggest jump of all: a whopping 27 percent, or, in the words of the BLS, “much faster than average.” And, I learned that all of these are openings represent good paying jobs, with average incomes ranging from $50,000 to more than $100,000.
It sounds like good news, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, I also learned that many of these jobs are going unfilled. Why? Because our workforce simply isn’t qualified.
According to a recent poll conducted by Duke University and reported by Techwire, job openings in the U.S. are at a record high: 5.8 million. But, according to the Duke survey, employers report they can’t find workers with the requisite skills to fill these openings. If this skill gap goes unfilled, a Duke economics professor warned in the article, U.S. companies might be forced to move overseas to find the trained workers they need.
To me, this represents an incredible resource – for our children and our economy – that is simply going to waste. Stable, high-paying jobs – the kinds that would give our children security in the future – are available and yet are going unfilled for the simple reason that our children are not being taught the computer science skills they need to qualify for these jobs.
Our nation’s children need to be able to compete for jobs in an increasingly globalized world workplace. Without vital computer skills and tech training, they will graduate from school without the essential skills they need to succeed in life and support their families. And, without skilled workers, America will lose its place as a leader in technological innovation and advancement.
What Teachers Can Do
I believe that teachers stand at the forefront of this important battle for our children’s futures. They are the ones who will give our children the vital computer science skills they need to succeed. Teachers must recognize, as stated in the outline of President Obama’s computer science initiative, that computer science education is no longer a luxury. It is now the “new basic skill” that our children need for both “economic opportunity and social mobility.” Teachers need to prepare themselves to teach computer science and to help build computer science programs in their schools.
How can teachers give our children the computer science skills they need and help build successful computer science programs within their schools? Here are a few possibilities:
● Make a commitment – President Obama’s computer science initiative calls upon governors, mayors, non-profits, companies, foundations and education leaders to do all they can to make this “critical subject available” to all American students. Make the commitment to do your part.
● Educate yourself – You literally cannot teach something you don’t clearly understand. Consider taking a class to bring your own computer skills up to date. Coding bootcamps are a good option because they pack a great deal of learning into a short timeframe.
● Talk it up – Keep computer science topics alive in your classroom. Tell your students about the job opportunities available in the field. Point out all of the technology around you and ask them where they think it comes from. Relate the subjects you’re teaching – math and science particularly – to computer awareness whenever you can.
● Bring CS to your school – Talk to your administrators or your school board. Emphasize the need for quality computer science education in your school. Share the facts you learned from this article, if it helps your argument.
● Bring CS to your classroom – Even if computer science isn’t yet a part of your school’s curriculum, you can still make it part of your own classroom. Let your students do research on the computer, for instance. Have Lego robotics kits available for them to use. Find simple, age-appropriate coding games for them to play. There are lots of them out there!
As a nation, we have the opportunity to alter the course of history for our children. Teachers and business owners, working together, can help ensure that the generation of children who are in school right now get the computer science training they need and deserve. Together, our contributions can pave the way toward a better future for our children and our county.