Steve Jobs once said, “Everybody in this country should learn how to program a computer...because it teaches you how to think.” Statistically speaking, Jobs had it right.
Studies have shown that students who learn introductory computer science demonstrate improved math scores. But the reality is that computer science courses are fading from the national landscape. In 2011, just over 2,000 of the more than 40,000 U.S. high schools were certified to teach AP computer science courses. A 2009 NAEP High School Transcript report revealed that the percentage of U.S. high school students taking science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) courses had increased over the last 20 years across all STEM disciplines except computer science where it dropped from 25 to 19 percent.
Surprisingly, computer science doesn’t seem to have the same allure among K-12 students as other subjects, such as engineering, mathematics, and science. This trend must change.
Bolstering the volume of computer science courses offered in America’s K-12 schools will take the collective efforts of teachers, school administrators, parents, business and community leaders, and elected officials. It is a matter of giving children every opportunity to succeed, thus making our schools and students globally competitive.
Global competiveness means that change must come swiftly to schools so that students lead the world in the number and scope of computer courses for which they are enrolled. In addition to academic performance and preparation, access to and enrollment in computer science courses will create a workforce pipeline that meets the demand of the more than 4 million computer science jobs expected by year 2020.
Even now, in 2013, computers are mainstream tools in various career fields, and professionals in those fields are called on to utilize their computer programming skills daily. Increasingly, professionals in non-computer related jobs are expected to have intricate knowledge and understanding of computers and related programming in order to effectively perform the most routine of tasks. But let’s face reality, gone are the days when computers where found only in the workplace — now they are everywhere and technology dominates just about every aspect of our lives.
So critical is the need to strengthen computer science education in the U.S. that members of Congress have advocated for legislation that will support computer science in K-12 classrooms nationwide. Locally, in Miami-Dade County Public Schools, computer science education and access to cutting-edge technology have always been a priority. In fact, a resounding yes vote last year from Miami-Dade County voters for a $1.2 billion General Obligation bond has paved the way for capital projects that will outfit every public school in Miami-Dade with state-of-the-art technology that strengthens computer science instruction and heightens academic rigor.
The school district is encouraging its more than 300,000 K-12 students to experiment with new technologies and learn how to code by supporting the Hour of Code, a campaign to recruit students to try computer science for one hour, especially during Computer Science Education Week, December 9-15. A fundamental knowledge of computer programming and coding is as important to K-12 education as knowledge of other core curricula. Miami-Dade County Public Schools joins the nation in supporting greater access to computer science education, which is critical knowledge for the 21st century and beyond.
Alberto M. Carvalho is superintendent of Miami-Dade Public Schools. For more information, contact the M-DCPS Division of Instructional Technology, Instructional Materials, and Library Media Services at 305-995-7605.