Coding in Classrooms: Why Computer Science Education Matters

When I was in high school, personal computers were a new concept, and students still learned how to use a typewriter. But when I graduated from college, I ended up accepting a position as a software developer with a large consulting firm. I underwent intensive training and then was sent out to work on large enterprise systems with companies like Hallmark and Lenscrafters. Over the next 25 years, I was fortunate to be right in the middle of things as the personal computer and the internet took over the business world.

Why Teach Computer Science, Including Coding?

Now, as technology continues to change every business and industry on the planet, more and more of our schools are intentionally teaching computer science, including coding, as a way to build computing knowledge in students. In fact, computer jobs are the No. 1 source of new wages in the United States. In many states, K-12 computer science standards have been adopted in the past few years or are in development. More than 30 states now have laws and regulations promoting computer science education, according to a report from Code.org.

Given the importance of computing knowledge to our society and the exploding demand for a computing-literate workforce, every student deserves the opportunity to learn about algorithms, how to build an app, or how the internet works. Computing knowledge is about problem solving using systems thinking and logic. Not every student will want to go into computer science, but exposure to these concepts can open up other related opportunities around design, innovation, and entrepreneurship.

Computer Science in K-12 Schools: Where We Stand

We still have a ways to go. As of 2018, only 35 percent of high schools across 24 states reported that they provide opportunities for students to study computer science. And there are significant inequities in the availability of computer science learning for students. The Code.org report found that female and underrepresented groups—including rural students—are less likely to have access to high-quality computer science education.

Fortunately, there are organizations like Code.org that are making enormous impact, with more than 100 million students worldwide being exposed to computer science. There is much to be optimistic about, especially during Computer Science Education Week, currently taking place to recognize the birthday of computing pioneer Rear Admiral Dr. Grace Murray Hopper, born Dec. 9, 1906.

The explosive growth of technology and computer science educational opportunities also illustrates two important points about teaching and learning. First, the emergence of computers is providing the opportunity to rethink the nature of instruction. Technology has fundamentally changed the way knowledge is captured, distributed, and shared, democratizing access and enabling student-centered learning that is changing the very nature of teaching. 

Students today no longer have to be passive consumers of traditional, whole class learning—technology, supported by teachers as coaches, can allow students to pursue knowledge that is relevant and interesting to them. And students need not be passive users of the technology either—they can learn to design it and develop it themselves, actively participating in the technological transformation going on around them.

What This All Means for Teachers

Likewise, just as technology is changing the learning experience for students, it also demands a change in the way teachers are prepared and supported. Teacher preparation programs have to embed the same kind of computer science learning into their curriculum. Computer science is not just a subject to be taught but also a foundational component of the learning process.

This week, more than 200,000 educators are supporting “The Hour of Code” as a way to introduce students to the field of computer science. It is a worldwide effort that starts with hour-long coding activities but expands to an array of community efforts. It is something to be celebrated. It is also on the front lines of the technological transformation that our schools are undergoing. The implications are profound, and they are only beginning to be felt.