Mandatory Computer Science Classes: Preparation for Digital Careers

The question of the role technology should play in the classroom is a highly debated topic. Some argue that technology inhibits a young child’s natural thinking and causes a distraction in the learning environment. Others argue that students should utilize technology in the classroom to prepare them for the highly digitalized adult world. While these questions are entirely valid and poses the need for more research, they take away from the more important technical hindrance facing youth at a global scale. This issue being that learning to use this technology is overtaking the more important skill, how technology works. In grade school, students are taught at a young age how weather is produced, how climate works, how governments pass legislation and how body systems work, but students are not taught how technology works. In today’s highly digitized world, these skills are crucial for success.

Learn How it Works, Not How to Work It

If you give a hungry man a fish, he will eat the fish and ask for another when he gets hungry again.  If you teach a man to fish, he will fish until he ultimately runs out of fish. However if you teach a man how ecosystems work, the breeding patterns of the fish, and how to rotate fishing spots, he will be self sustained for a lot longer.  

There is debate over how much influence technology should have in a child’s early development.  Some experts say that the benefits of using technology as a learning tool inhibit the child’s other developmental skills, and create an addiction.  Others say that technology offers a unique way of teaching children skills. What’s important to take away from this is that there is no clear answer, whether giving your child a tablet at the age of 10 will harm or help their developmental skills.  What should be examined is the child’s ability to understand and comprehend technology–a skill they will need when they grow up.

Technology is not going anywhere, and this has some parents worried that there could be negative effects of prolonged tech use in children.  Technology addiction is a hot topic at global level. The latest Apple iOS update featured a screen-time measurement service that automatically sends a screentime report to your apple device every week.  Rather than fear the unknown effects of technology, we should be teaching children how it works. A school district does not need to purchase 1,000 iPads to teach a class of students what actually goes on behind the screen when they send emails. 

The Curriculum Needs an Update

Local and national legislators usually have the final say as to what courses are mandated to be taught throughout a country.  Often these mandated courses are focused on physical education, health, and languages. These courses require full participation and a passing grade to complete.  If these are not reached, the student then must retake the course. The purpose of these programs are to ensure a national understanding of a subject, usually deemed important by state and/or national legislation.  However, with all of these advancements being made in the technology sector, shouldn’t education courses reflect that? The answer is yes, and it should have been done years ago. Current high school seniors were born in 2000. They were 6 years old when WiFi reached 100 million users, 7 years old when Apple released the first iPhone, and 9 years old when their parents first started watching TV in high definition.  This is the “tech” generation, but how is that being fostered? In actuality, it isn’t. Students often reach college before they get a basic computer science understanding and that isn’t guaranteed. Unless computer science is a career path a student desires, a majority of global young adults are not getting adequate IT knowledge.  The United States Government recognized the need for more IT focus in schools. Then President Obama stated “In the new economy, computer science isn’t an optional skill–its a basic skill” [1]. A basic skill that many adults don’t have, and or don’t have access to learn. In order to better instill computer science on a nation, it needs to be taught at a young age.

What Should Be Taught?

Students are entering a global workforce that is undergoing a massive digital transformation.  In the past few decades alone digital capabilities have made incredible advancements. From streaming services to the cloud, the network’s possibilities have grown. Course curriculum should reflect these advancements, however there are still different directions for this to take. Educators, and other individuals close to these projects question whether a mandated computer science course should focus on preparing students for jobs in information technology, or teaching them innovative ways to think and solve their problems.   

In order for students to be best prepared for the professional digital world, they must be taught the basics in classes.  Below are four basic information technology elements that are crucial for all students to learn. 

Coding: 

The skeleton of all things digital.  Students would benefit immensely from mandated coding classes.  These classes will teach children how to identify or classify items by assigning codes to them.  The understanding of computer coding is essential for the future of today’s youth. Coding improves a variety of skills, such as, communication, persistence, collaboration, problem solving, and creativity [2].  In addition to skill building, parents can feel confident knowing that computer programmers are in high demand , and instilling these skills at a young age will give them a competitive advantage [2]. A study conducted by Code.org found that 71% of all new STEM jobs are in computing, however only 8%of STEM graduates are in a computer science background [3].  Coding is a vital skill that should be taught to all youth in school, because adults in the workforce right now simply do not have it. Applicants with the ability to code will highly desirable and sought after by employers. Teaching students basic programming skills will have an impact on the way they interact and use technology in the future.

Internet Infrastructure:

There are now more than 4 billion people across the world using the internet [4] , but only 23% of users in a study conducted by Pew Research know that the internet is different then the world wide web [5].  In order for students to have a deep understanding of technology, they must be taught how it works. They should understand how search engines store information and how choosing different keywords changes the search outcome. They should understand how the cloud stores data virtually, and how a storm in New York can potentially affect the network in Munich.  In science classes students are taught the components of the circulatory system, how they work together to provide vital processes for the human body, what can go wrong, and how to prevent it from going wrong. Digital infrastructure is just as important to teach children as science, seeing that it will impact them the same way in their adulthood.

Digital Citizenship:

A digital citizen is defined as a person who develops the skills and knowledge to effectively use the internet and other digital technology, especially in order to participate responsibility in social and civic activities [6].  Schools should teach students how to be responsible and ethical through digital discourse. This doesn’t just mean conversational circumstances. Digital Citizenship education should extend to the importance of digital safety and cyber crimes.  Students should be taught at a young age about the dangers of sharing personal information. They should understand how to protect their information, and the consequences of not protecting it. Students should also be educated on computer viruses,  and worms, and what they can do to your digital environment and how to avoid them. A mandated class in digital citizenship would ensure a basic understanding across a generation of future digital users. This basic understanding of digitally responsible and ethical behavior would bring a new element to digital transformation, a digitally civil user base.  

Digital History and Policy Implementations:  

Understanding how something came about and was developed is crucial to its general understanding.  Students learning about how modern technology has advanced stand to have a better understanding of current technologies.  They should also learn about the laws that governing bodies implement, and the effects these laws and policy changes have on digital transformation.  GDPR and Net Neutrality recent examples of how a law enacted by a governing body can affect the digital environment.

Societal Benefits

What happens when you educate a community? People live longer, they are happier communication is increased, and there is more civility.  While advancements in digital technology have created opportunities, they have also created barriers. Not all members of society can access the internet or are able to pursue objectives digitally, particularly members from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.  An online application for a job isn’t easily submittable for everyone, particularly those that do not have a consistent internet connection.  

Once information technology education is mandated, the chances of a more digitally just and fair society increases.  While building a digitally just world, mandated IT education will create a smarter and more talented workforce. By preparing students for the digital skills they will need in adulthood young, you are securing a future full of digital possibilities.

How is it Going so Far?

There is widespread understanding that mandatory computer science classes would benefit school systems.  These classes prepare all students regardless of their career interests or background for a tech-driven future.  Three American states, Arkansas, California and South Carolina have implemented K-12 computer science classes. Eight years ago, just 19,390 students took an Advanced Placement Computer Science exam. By last spring, that was up to 99,868—a 415 percent jump [7].

 

Although strides have been made to effectively insert computer science courses in education, some challenges have began to take form.  For instance, wide scale implementation of mandatory classes across a nation is going to come with challenges. School’s are already stretched thin, and courses like this require start up costs.  Another challenge is keeping up with the newest innovations from Silicon Valley and the rapidity of digital transformation. Schools and educators are left wondering if the coding languages and technology a 6th grader is using today will be useful once they become and adult.  Another challenge is finding teachers to teach these computer science skills. Many come from the private field, which they ultimately return to because of the more competitive pay they receive there. There is also concern that students are already too far behind, and that the basic skills students are learning now could be replaced by machine learning in years to come. 

Before you Go

Education is fundamental to sustainable development.  IT education should be a mandatory class for youth.  Students will learn the fundamentals of technology, how things work, and how to create.  We all depend on the network, but not enough of people know how it works, and feel that they are too behind to ask.  It’s time to say enough is enough with siloed education. The question should not be if IT tech should be taught in schools, but rather why not.  The world is becoming increasingly dependent on technology. Skills such as coding are highly sought after. Employment in computer occupations is expected to grow by 12.5% between 2014 and 2024, which will result in more than half a million new jobs in the field [8]. Centuries ago, skills like reading a writing were highly sought after, and possessing those skills was seen as a social status.  As time progressed, skills like reading and writing were necessary for an increasing number of occupations, so more children were taught these skills. The next technological breakthrough may lie in the mind of someone who may not know how the internet works…yet.

Sources

[1] Washington Post, All Students Should Learn to Code. Right? Not so Fast (2016)

[2] ID Tech, 9 Reasons your Child Should Learn to Code (2017)

[3] Code.org, Promote Computer Science (2016)

[4] We are social, Global Digital Report (2018)

[5] Pew Research, What Internet Users Know About Technology and the Web (2014)

[6] Dictionary.com, Digital Citizen (2018)

[7] EdWeek, Computer Science for All: Can Schools Pull It Off? (2018)

[8] Code a kid, Why Kids Should Learn Computer Programing and 5 Quick Tips to Help Them Get Started (2018) 

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