We Need A Wider Conversation on CS Education

Computer Science Teacher
Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

We Need A Wider Conversation on CS Education

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There is an active conversation going on in the UK about computing education. From the Royal Society report (Shut down or restart?: The way forward for computing in UK schools) to Op-ed pieces in newspapers to blogs people are asking “why are we not teaching students more computer science?” I see some of that conversation in the US as well. Andy Young’s piece on Why programming should be required in schools was Slash Dotted this week. The response on Slashdot is mixed. We have Computer Science Education Week now and some in Congress are talking about the need to do more. But far too little of this conversation is taking place outside the computer science education ghetto/echo chamber.

Computing in the Core seems like a good step and the organizations that are involved are the right ones.

Computing in the Core is a non-partisan advocacy coalition of associations, corporations, scientific societies, and other non-profits seeking to elevate the national profile of computer science education in K-12 within the US and work toward ensuring that computer science is one of the core academic subjects in K-12 education.

But other than Microsoft, Google and SAS there doesn’t seem to be much participation from industry. Frankly industry should have the most vested interest in participating. Where are the other hardware and software companies? Where are the tech bloggers for that matter? The answer I’ve gotten before is that “not my area of expertise” or “I’m focused on other things.” Joel Spolsky is one of the exceptions with his involvement with the proposed software engineering high school in New York City. He sees the need for more highly skilled and trained computer science people. Then of course he is not just a pundit spouting off but a practitioner who actually hires software develops for his company. It may be that smaller companies are feeling the shortage of qualified people the most. The Microsofts, Googles, Facebooks, HPs, Dells, and other really large companies get to pick from the cream of the software development crop after all. The big companies need the small ones though. That is one of the reasons Microsoft has programs like BizSpark to help startups and works to help increase the pool of computer scientists – so that our partners will also be able to find the people they need.

Startups, who are also sucking up some of our best and brightest, are too small and too focused to get much involved. So it is the big companies we need to be involved for the betterment of the whole industry. The pundits in their blogs and social media outlets could be a powerful force in getting more companies involved. I just wish they would look around and get active. If they don’t they may all have to move to India or China to cover the software industry one of these days.

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  • To be honest I don't think the situation in the US is as bad as in the UK.  US education may not include enough CS but the UK has suffered from “ICT” lessons which are worse than nothing; they actually persuade students that IT careers are dull, repetitive and poorly paid.  One report quotes a girl as saying “Why would I want to study computing at University, I already know how to email”. Most British kids have little concept of careers as developers, they assume that IT professionals just use applications because that is all the kids do at school.  I put up pictures of Bill Gates, Eric Schmidt and Mark Zuckerberg in my classroom.  They generally don't recognize Schmidt but most know Gates and Zuckerberg and yet are surprised when I tell them these guys know how to program....even if they've since moved onwards and upwards.

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