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Schools are Failing to Prepare Students for the Future, Here’s how we Fix It
Schools are stuck in the past. Despite good intentions, schools are not teaching children the necessary skills to be successful in the modern world. The American school system has not evolved to accommodate a more digitized world. Schools need to incorporate computer science into their curriculum soon before we fall even further behind the rest of the world. Before 2016, Japan started teaching computer science at age 12, but then legislation was passed stating that “Computer programming will become compulsory in all elementary schools from 2020” (TypeKids). Japan understands that computer science is an integral skill, necessary for all areas of work, so they made it mandatory in early schooling; we need to do the same! Too few people don’t know what is going on under the hood of our smart devices; students should not only understand the code but also need to understand the hardware, and what is physically happening inside the computer. As computers control more and more of our lives, especially the lives of young people, it becomes more and more urgent that we teach students about machines. Teenagers have known nothing but this abundance of technology, and it can feel like there is nothing you can do to detach them from their phones; but what if we were to teach them how to control technology, not be controlled? What if we flipped the script and taught kids how to understand and respect technology instead of taking it for granted? What if we taught every student how to use computers for their original purpose, to create and make the world a better place?
Computer science needs to be in all schools around the country rather than limited to wealthy districts. All public schools and private schools throughout all levels of schooling, from elementary through middle school and high school. People shouldn't be barred from learning computer science just because their school district doesn’t have computer science; if they are interested in it they should be able to get that opportunity. Why do we put such an emphasis on learning things like chemistry or biology but not on computer science? Not everyone is going to go into chemistry or biology or even computer science and yet chemistry and biology are considered to be important enough that we want everyone to learn about cells and valence electrons but not about machine learning or web development? Honestly ask yourself when was the last time that you needed to know what a valence electron was, or what the law of cosines is, or that the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell? Ask yourself, when was the last time I or someone I know, be they relative, coworker, or friend, had trouble with technology, and wondered why this file type couldn’t be uploaded to the homework page, or why your email wasn’t loading? Although I think computer science is really important, I’m not trying to say that chemistry, trigonometry, biology, are not important. Trust me, I am all for more STEM. But computer science isn't taught enough already and it is becoming more and more important.
Students already have an extremely packed schedule, trying to learn everything about how the world works and the skills necessary to live in it, so how could they learn a whole new subject? If you give five hours per day of classes and have eight classes — math, English, science, history, a foreign language, art, music, and computer science — you could meet with each for an hour 3 times per week for a total of 3 hrs of each subject a week with time left over. Too complicated? Because computer science is so versatile, it can be interspersed in most classes. Math and science can often be very conceptual with little application to the real world, but computer science can make both subjects more hands-on and more project based. It allows application of the material that students are learning in class as they’re learning it. Learning about Astronomy? Create an asteroids game in Scratch! Learning geometry? Make a program that uses simple shapes to estimate pi! Learning about fractals? Make up your own fractals or recreate existing ones with recursion! The possibilities are endless!
Computer science should be taught starting in early elementary school, even as early as kindergarten. Just getting kids to become interested in computer science as an idea is a good start. Most kindergarteners wouldn’t be able to understand lots of the more complicated logic structures that come with line based coding so we teach them the most basic and most important thing about computer science: the computer does exactly what you tell it to do. So get kindergarteners to write a list of instructions on how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, then have the teacher do exactly what the child wrote down, and watch as the giggles and chaos ensues.
Starting in kindergarten also addresses another issue of stereotypes. Hadi Partovi, co founder and CEO of Code.org, an organization dedicated to spreading computer science to schools all over the world and improving equality in the field says starting so young makes sure “you reach them before stereotypes and negative associations set in, before they think ‘I’m a girl and I can’t do this’ or ‘This is just for nerds’” (qtd. in Merrill) In the computer science field right now there are three men for every one woman and over the past 10 years that it hasn’t gotten any better, mainly fluctuating between 70% and 80% men (Zippia). Computer science is also very racially segregated, with over 65% being white, and the next largest demographic being 25% Asian. Only 1% of all computer scientists are black in America (Zippia). Getting to students before those negative stereotypes settle in will be super important to make this field more inclusive to all genders and ethnicities.
Then in middle school you can start with more complex computer science like Scratch and other block based programming languages, you can work on making simple games. Scratch shouldn’t be underestimated, I made some pretty complicated games from Scratch when I was in fifth grade; you just need a bit of guidance from teachers and some creativity. This will teach the core concepts of all programming languages like loops, if/then statements, defining your own functions, and variables. Then as you get closer to high school you can move to more advanced programming like line based programming in Python and applying the knowledge you have learned from placing blocks in the right order to placing lines of code in the right order.
Then in high school kids can learn computer science topics that require more complex math such as recursion, sorting and searching algorithms, and machine learning as they progress through more complex math like trigonometry and calculus. It's a time when students have to start considering what they want to do with their life, and what careers they want to pursue. Computer science will serve you well in whatever you decide to do and will help you get a job fast. Even if computer science is not what you want to do at all, even if you want to avoid it, just having the skill is invaluable as a back up. The world is unforgiving and having a skill that can get you a decent job while you try to follow your dreams is very useful.
After over a decade of computer science study, what does a student actually get out of it? Learning computer science doesn’t just teach programming; it also teaches communication and collaboration, creativity, and other skills that are important in the real world. Partovti says “[computer science] taught me how to solve complex problems by breaking them down into smaller parts and rearranging them to make better sense of them. Computer science is about learning how to think, and it’s applicable to everything from writing a symphony to building a business” (qtd. in Merrill). Skills like these are invaluable in the real world. Learning computer science will help students in whatever they do, even if they decide to do the furthest thing from computer science possible because these skills are universal to all disciplines.
All this screen time at such a young age can be concerning for some. I understand that lots of adults feel like kids of all ages are living on their screens and on social media. Study after study shows that social media use is directly correlated with increased depression rates in teenages(Nittle), and many fear that to compulsorily teach computer sciences too young would just worsen it. The goal is not to create more of an addiction to screen but to create agency. Teaching kids about healthy screen habits early will only improve how they spend time on screens. Wouldn’t you rather have your kid glued to their screen trying to solve a complex programming problem rather than just watching youtube videos? Knowledge of how these algorithms work and having a deeper understanding of what these big tech companies want from you can help people fight back. I can say from personal experience that I spend less time on my screens on average now, after 2 courses in computer science. It makes it easier for me to realize that I have been scrolling for the past five minutes and easier to stop. Now this isn’t a miracle, screen time won’t go from 9 hours a day to 1 in a week, but it allows for more agency and encourages more informed decisions when it comes to screens.
Some people might not like the idea of being forced to go through another math heavy subject especially if they already don’t like math. However, computer science isn’t just about programming, and algorithms. Sure, that's part of it, but computer science branches off into every field; taking a computer science class doesn’t necessarily mean you're even looking at a screen. If you are someone who likes working with their hands and building things then computer science is for you. Building the hardware for computers is just as important as the software, and computer modeling parts for real world applications is an invaluable skill. If you are someone who is more into art, then computer science is for you! CGI (computer generated imaging) is a huge part of movies and television now — and just watch how this former Pixar employee paints with computer science. You don’t have to be a ‘math’ person to get into computer science. There are so many other avenues to explore that the only math you will ever need is some basic algebra, and some even less than that. Computer science is often taught from a more math oriented perspective but because it's so versatile it should be taught with a much broader range of disciplines in mind. No matter your interests, or what field you are in, computer science has a place for you.
Teaching computer science to all grades in all schools would require an enormous amount of computer science teachers, but computer science is an ever growing, huge field; how could we find so many teachers when many schools are already understaffed in the computer science department? Despite there being many other jobs for computer scientists that pay a lot better than being a teacher, under my proposed plan, the problem would fix itself. Only a very small percentage of students that come out of college have any computer science knowledge, and a much smaller number of people from high school have any experience either. If my plan goes into action then after a few years, all those kids who now have had just as much education in computer science as they have had in subjects like English or math. This would make them easily qualified to teach k-5 with some training in how to teach. The problem would fix itself given time, and an initial push. Like a car battery starts a car engine until it can run itself, lots of teachers would have to be open to change and maybe learning some basic computer science. Another solution that wouldn’t take so much effort on the part of already overworked teachers is getting a large organization like Teach For America to get recent computer science graduates to come teach for a few years. Another issue is funding for such programs, but computer science doesn’t require much. Most computer science up until high school can be done on chromebooks and other relatively cheap computers that most schools already have. The only other thing a computer science program needs is a good teacher and a classroom.
Getting computer science teachers is so hard right now because everyone and their uncle needs computer scientists. Every single company, industry, or corporation needs computer scientists. Over the next 10 years, the number of computer science jobs is projected to grow 33% (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). There is a lot of good money in it with the average computer science major making more than $70,000 a year out of college (Glassdoor). Not only is it lucrative, but the job market for computer science is not saturated at all right now, meaning there are lots of computer science positions available that aren’t currently being filled, with over 16000 new positions every year (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). For example, over the past 20 years cars have become more and more electrical and less mechanical, making it more difficult for old school mechanics to fix. Nearly 30% of all car issues with newer cars are electronic issues that the old school mechanics can’t fix (Jones). Now with cars becoming smarter using algorithms, fewer and fewer mechanics know how to fix the complicated computer issues that are popping up more and more. This phenomenon isn’t just happening in the automotive industry, lots of industries are suffering from such computerization and don’t have the personnel to handle it. Teaching students how to manage these kinds of problems is going to be key to the future of our country.
We need to start bringing our schools into the 21st century with computer science. Schools are supposed to prepare students for the real world and give them the knowledge and the skills that they need to thrive in the world, and yet computer science isn’t being taught in many schools nor is it being taught early enough. Computer science needs to be taught early to avoid stereotypes and also to get kids interested in the subject, it needs to be taught all throughout elementary school and high school. Computer science is too important to be limited to only the rich schools or only private schools; it is becoming a core skill required to survive in the modern world and that is only becoming more true. Everyone should be able to get access to computer science; it should not be held behind a barrier of negative stereotypes or how well funded your school is. The US government needs to wake up and take a lesson from Japan and start seriously funding and mandating computer science in all schools. In 2020, the US government spent 763 million on STEM education funding(U.S. Department of Education), and while that might seem like a lot, compared to the over 700 BILLION it spent on military defense in the same year(U.S. Department of Defense), or the 44 BILLION that Elon Musk spent on Twitter, the STEM funding is a joke! Computer science supports important skills that aren’t just programming, and computer science has a massive job market, and teaching computer science is only setting them up for success later in life. This is an opportunity to teach the younger generations to control and be interested in computer science and turn from playing video games all day to making video games all day. To turn scrolling endlessly through TikTok to learning about, and making algorithms like the ones designed to keep you scrolling. We have the opportunity to flip the term iPad kid to mean someone who is passionate about computers and technology, not someone who lives in their screens.
“Computer Scientist Demographics and Statistics in the US.” Zippia, 18 Apr. 2022, zippia.com/computer-scientist-jobs/demographics/.
“DOD Releases Fiscal Year 2021 Budget Proposal.” U.S. Department of Defense, United States Government, 10 Feb. 2020, defense.gov/News/Releases/Release/Article/2079489/dod-releases-fiscal-year-2021-budget-proposal/.
“How Are Computers Used in Primary Schools around the World?” TypeKids, 1 Dec. 2018, typekids.com/blog/computers-in-primary-schools-around-the-world/.
“Information Security Analysts : Occupational Outlook Handbook.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 18 Apr. 2022, bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/information-security-analysts.htm#tab-6.
Jones, Daniel. “Modern Cars Are Now So Complicated Even Mechanics Can't Work out What's Wrong with Them, Says Poll.” Modern Cars Are Now so Complicated Even MECHANICS Can’t Understand Them, The Sun, 28 July 2016, thesun.co.uk/news/1513830/modern-cars-are-now-so-complicated-even-mechanics-cant-understand-them-says-poll/.
Merrill, Stephen. “Computer Science for All (Starting in Kindergarten).” Edutopia, George Lucas Educational Foundation, 28 Feb. 2018, edutopia.org/article/computer-science-all-starting-kindergarten.
Nittle, Nadra. “Can Social Media Cause Depression?” Verywell Mind, Verywell Mind, 1 July 2021, verywellmind.com/social-media-and-depression-5085354.
“Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, Including Computer Science.” U.S. Department of Education, United States Government, 15 Jan. 2021, ed.gov/stem.
Glassdoor, Team. “50 Highest Paying College Majors.” Glassdoor Blog, 15 Oct. 2021, glassdoor.com/blog/50-highest-paying-college-majors/.