We all know that young people are adept at using smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices. But let’s not mistake mastery of these devices with having in-depth knowledge about computers.
For example, my teenage sons, like many young people, are aces at using social media and blasting through videos and other content. However, they usually don’t grasp the basics about how to configure and use computing devices. And forget about them delving into the deeper aspects of computing and coding!
Truth be told, America would probably receive a D+ on a computer science report card. The U.S. Department of Education reports that only about 16 percent of American high school seniors are proficient in mathematics and interested in a career in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).
Meanwhile, the agency notes that from 2010 to 2020, demand for computer systems analysts will grow by 22 percent, and demand for systems software developers will swell by 32 percent.
America is no longer a nation that’s at risk of falling behind in science and engineering education. Rather, it’s a nation that’s falling further behind, according to Rick Stephens, senior vice president of human resources and administration at Boeing, in past testimony before the House Science and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Science Education.
There’s growing awareness that this must change. The U.S. can’t depend on an endless supply of foreign talent.
One of the group’s pushing for change is the IEEE Computer Society. In February, it issued a statement voicing support for President Obama’s $4 billion budget request for funding computer education. It hopes to use federal education funds to add computer programming to K-12 school curricula and to help train teachers.
The president’s program, dubbed Computer Science for All, takes aim at lagging computer science learning. Incredibly, only a quarter of the elementary, middle and high schools in the U.S. offer computer science classes, with 22 states not allowing such classes to count toward a diploma, the New York Times reported. What’s more, only 4,310 of the 37,000 high schools in the country offer Advanced Placement computer science classes.
President Obama is also pushing private industry to support computer science education more effectively.
To be sure, it’s time to recognize that business as usual just isn’t good enough. While other countries are building computer science learning frameworks, the U.S. is in danger of choking on digital exhaust fumes. Ultimately, our economy—and our digital future—is at stake. So STEM education is something we had better make compute.