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3 reasons why teaching, learning computer science is critical

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Career-Technical Education

It’s Computer Science Education Week.  In this blog post, Melissa Moritz, the deputy director of STEM at the US Department of Education, helps us mark the annual program.

From December 7-13, educators and students across the US are celebrating Computer Science Education Week. It’s a great time to consider how, as a nation, we can build a strong community of computer scientists in which every student has the opportunity be a part.

Computer scientists use technology to solve some of society’s biggest challenges, designing solutions to make our lives and work easier. Across our country, computer scientists are building the next big innovations that will alter the ways in which we create, communicate, do business and spend our leisure time.

Computer science is a gateway to the future, but there are other reasons why it’s critical that every student has the chance to engage in this important area of learning. Here are just a few to consider this week and as we move into a new year:

  1. For our young people to succeed in an increasingly global, knowledge-based economy, they must be equipped with knowledge and skills that go beyond mastery of foundational academic subjects.

When students have the chance to study computer science, they can develop skills such as persistence, problem-solving, critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration — skills that they will need to thrive in school, life and any profession they choose.

Importantly, computer science is not limited to coding or programming, although these are essential components of a robust education in computer science. Students also learn how to analyze data and information, work with algorithms, develop hypothesis and test solutions, conduct research, and engage in abstract thinking.

Computer science education can provide students with a strong understanding of how their classroom studies relate to real-world challenges and opportunities, as well as exposure to next-generation approaches to learning and instruction.

  1. Ensuring that all students have the opportunity to access rigorous coursework in STEM subjects — including computer science — is a matter of equity.

The ability to design, code, program, troubleshoot and demonstrate computational literacy are rapidly emerging as necessary skills for today’s students. Yet, a large majority of our public schools don’t offer computer science classes, and access is particularly limited for minority and low-income students. More than three-quarters of US high schools do not offer computer science courses. Only 26 states allow students to count computer science toward high-school graduation.

Across the country, young girls and minority students are far less likely than their white, male peers to take computational courses in middle and high school. In 2015, for example, girls represented only 22% and underrepresented minorities only 13% of the approximately 50,000 students nationally who took the Advanced Placement (AP) exam in computer science. In three states, not a single female student took the AP computer science exam, and in nine states, no African-American students took the test. These numbers are discouraging when access to and successful completion of rigorous computer science courses can help students master challenging concepts and high-tech skills that are increasingly relevant to how we live, learn and work.

All of us — whether we are educators, parents, policymakers or community or business leaders — must work together to ensure that every student has access to opportunity, which includes the chance to engage in rigorous learning experiences that can prepare students for success in college, careers, and life.

  1. Kids can invent their future using computer science skills, and jobs in computer science-related fields are growing.

Technology influences nearly every aspect of our lives, and it has the power to help our children build a more productive, prosperous, safe and healthy world. Cybersecurity, network administration, coding, project management, and data analytics are just some of the areas in which students can exercise the type of problem-solving skills, creativity, entrepreneurship, and innovation that is advanced by training in computer science. Positions in these fields also boast average salaries more than one-and-a-half times higher than those for the average private-sector job.

We can, and must do more to enable every student with a dream the ability to become our next great app developer, engineer or inventor. When we provide opportunities to all our students, we empower them to pursue passions that they might not have known existed.

President Obama has issued a call to educators, businesses, foundations, nonprofit organizations, and other partners to support computer science education in our public schools. The good news is momentum is building to expand educational opportunity to students through computer science.

Learn more about how to get involved:

Melissa Moritz is the deputy director of STEM at the US Department of Education