Computer science-based jobs are rapidly growing in the national labor market. But despite this high demand, students in the U.S. have become less interested in learning the most essential skill for the field – coding. People who see this as a problem are working to turn the tables.
Only 10 percent of public schools in the U.S. even offer computer programming classes.
It’s not nearly enough of a student population to fill in the estimated 1.4 million computer-related jobs that will exist by 2020, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
And schools are struggling to keep students interested in the computer science courses that are available, with the number of students enrolled having declined in comparison to other school subjects.
It doesn’t help that in 41 states computer science classes aren’t required for graduating high school.
Computer programming educators like Willie Avendano believes the U.S. needs to catch-up, if not to fill in the job gap, but to keep Americans relevant for any job at all.
“Programming is not just a technical basis to be an engineer, it’s a literacy that has evolved to be needed in our daily lives,” said Avendano, the hacker and thinker in residence at The LAB Miami. “You put in your toolbelt of construction, of building ideas and having them come to life.”
Avendano says people can begin learning as young as elementary school. He and his colleagues teach children ages 8-14 the concepts of game mechanics, the aesthetics of web design, programming languages such as Python and building 3D virtual reality experiences.
And he finds children take well to it.
When Avendano teaches his students, for example, how to create a set of dots and have them move from one end of the web page to the other, he said “kids are asking questions like, ‘how do I make it red or blue?’ They’re interested, but they’re inquisitive.”
Females in particular are especially interested in computer-based skills. DNA spoke to the founder of Girls Who Code, Reshma Saujani, to learn more about the gender gap.
“Young girls are more digitally engaged than boys her age,” said Saujani about girls under age 10. But around seventh grade, she says, girls are pressured to view becoming a programmer as something for boys.
“You cannot be what you cannot see,” she said, adding that society as a whole should generate role models for children to be inspired to learn coding.
“We really need right now for our elected officials, our parents, our teachers and educators to do that, because our economy has dramatically changed,” said Saujani.
Other countries around the world have realized the need for computer programming in its schools and have been implementing the courses in public schools, even on a national level.
In China, every high school student is required to take computer programming in order to graduate.
Estonia plans to expand a pilot program to all its schools in which students as young as 7 years old begin learning to code. Finland is looking to follow suit.
Israel, which has a centralized education system, has been offering computer programming to its high school students since the 1990s.
Another organization working to keep the U.S. competitive is Code.org, which has the support of tech leaders like Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates, as well as various celebrities.
But Code.org’s Founder and CEO Hadi Partovi sees a bigger picture in encouraging the youth to code.
“This is critical to our future. It’s not just about jobs in computer science or programming,” said Partovi in an interview on Wall Street Journal Live. “If you want to become a future doctor, lawyer, or even the future president, you need to know a little bit about how technology works.”
Avendano of The LAB Miami has an even greater vision.
“It’s not about having every kid become a web developer of the future,” he said. “But if you teach them how to code, the resources that are created in their minds – that space is infinite – then we allow anything to be possible.”