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Are Enough Students Learning Computer Science Skills?

Everyone uses computers. Not everyone understands computer science. Should they?

Jobs in the modern economy increasingly require at least some knowledge of computers. Business intelligence requires more than a group of specialized IT personnel -- it requires understanding from multiple levels of the enterprise. If business users don't understand what is (and is not) possible for programmers and developers, they won't be able to partner effectively with their more tech-savvy colleagues.

Unfortunately, experts indicate that there isn't enough computer science training today to fill all the specialized positions -- much less provide a basic technology education for future marketers and executives.

Authors of The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation's recently released report, "The Case for Improving U.S. Computer Science Education," contend that the U.S. high school and university system is not providing enough training in computer science or skills.

Their report claims that there are far more jobs in tech fields than there are people to fill them. One piece of evidence comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics: from 2005 to 2015, the economy added 100,000 IT jobs each year. Only about 75,000 people annually graduate with computer science degrees (bachelors, masters, or Ph.D.) and many of those who acquire higher degrees are foreign students who don't seek employment in the U.S. Another figure cited: 545,000, claimed to be the number of unfilled jobs that require technology skills.

The authors of the report say that the first problem is lack of access to computer science classes in high school. Such classes are only offered today at about a quarter of schools. Of schools accredited to offer Advanced Placement exams, only 18 percent offer the computer science AP exam.

Further, the classes that are offered may not be high quality. The report summary notes that often existing computer classes "lack rigor or focus on computer use or just coding instead of delving into computer science principles."

One solution is to increase funding for computer science teachers and certifications, and the authors propose that states should allow computer science classes to count toward math and science requirements.

On the other hand, the report authors don't mention merged classes that teach both math and computer science, even though this is the format currently used in some districts. One article cited in the report explores a shortage of coding classes in California schools. This article supports the idea that more computer science should be taught at the high school level, but also notes that the current numbers of computer classes aren't the whole story, because "computer science is sometimes integrated into math, engineering, or science courses."

Increasing computer science training at the university level is complicated as well. There aren't enough teachers to meet demand at many schools, and the classes are expensive to offer. This leads to colleges supporting fewer students in pursuing an interest in computer science, which in turn contributes to fewer women and students of color remaining in these programs. The ITIF report includes some in-depth charts exploring the gender gap in particular.

The report doesn't always distinguish between arguing for practical coding classes and arguing for theoretical computer science courses. The authors mention the stopgap measures as far as practical training goes -- massive open online courses (MOOCs) and self-directed training are filling in gaps for interested teenagers and adults.

Both high school and university students need training in technology. Are we at the point where all students need a class in the principles of programming? Read the full report here.

About the Author

Lindsay Stares is a production editor at TDWI. You can contact her at lstares@tdwi.org.


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