There is an unprecedented demand for technology talent today, and well up there on the list is the need for coders—an entire generation of them. The problem is that we are not on pace to meet that demand. Recent investments in STEM have generated momentum among K-12 students, but more work and investment remains. One key to success lies in getting children engaged in coding as early as possible to foster their innate curiosity and strengths.
Calling All Coders
New technologies, device proliferation, and connectivity have changed how we consume content, engage with one another, and drive commerce. Not surprisingly, the job market for computing-related professions is exploding. Approximately 150,000 new jobs in computing are coming online each year, and they are paying 75 percent more than the median salary. It is expected that by 2020, there will be 1 million more computing jobs than trained computer scientists.
The 2010 President’s Council of Advisors urges that “as the world becomes increasingly technological, the value of these national assets will be determined in no small measure by the effectiveness of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education.”
U.S. Lags Behind
Despite these clear indicators, U.S. K-12 education is lagging in providing coding instruction. Everyone from Mark Zuckerberg to Michael Bloomberg to Snoop Dogg agrees K-12 needs to lead the way toward a coding generation. Yet just 10 percent of American high schools currently offer computer science programs for students.
One obstacle for these programs is that only about half the states allow computing classes to count as credit toward high school diplomas. In contrast, England now requires coding as part of its K-12 curriculum. As a result, potential young U.S. coders have few places to go to learn and develop until they reach college years, which puts them behind the game.
Addressing The Barriers
There are complex reasons why needed change has not yet occurred. Many involve having to overcome continuing financial, technical, and cultural barriers.
For many districts, there is a real financial challenge to invest in the needed curriculum and personnel. The rapid pace of technical change has meant significant monies are being spent on infrastructure and devices. To support a shift in focus to support coding, however, districts must also invest in curriculum and personnel, which is more difficult due to institutional policies and existing programs. This means that districts have to choose where to invest for the best long-term results.
Beyond budgetary concerns, there also remain stereotypes and cultural biases that may deter students from seeking these opportunities. Girls are considered especially neglected in the coding game. As only 18 percent of university computer science graduates are female, measures must be taken to engage female students in coding and computer science programs. Additionally, underrepresented minorities earned only 12.5 percent of bachelor’s degrees in engineering, illustrating their absence in STEM fields.
Being The Change
Despite these barriers, a road map to better coding education best practices is now emerging. Schools can form partnerships with industries to mentor, teach, and implement coding in the classroom.
One example of this is the Lenovo Scholar Network, which partners with NAF (formerly the National Academy Foundation) to bring a mobile app development program to underserved high school classrooms. “For these students, the school year culminates in a national competition that showcases their new skills in app development and encourages them to join the next generation of developers,” says Karen Ondrick, chief connector at Lenovo. You can read more about the Lenovo Scholar Network and their partnership with NAF in my article from earlier this summer.
Teachers can receive certification in coding and participate in formalized teacher trainings held by school districts as well.
Additionally, states and districts are exploring new policies for assigning credits to coding coursework. While some states are looking to math and science credits for programming, Florida state senators have approved a bill allowing high school students to take computer coding classes in place of foreign language requirements.
Jeremy Ring, a Florida senator and former Yahoo executive, said in passing the bill that “Florida is a technology leader in this country … pioneering something that I believe will be a very significant trend.” If implemented, states should use strong standards when planning coding curricula, such as those created by the Computer Science Teachers Association.
Coding resources abound for enterprising districts and schools that want to get their students an early start. Code.org has resources from age 5 (kindergarten) and up to expose even the youngest students to coding. “The Hour of Code,” which is a national initiative to introduce at least one hour of coding into the existing curriculum, is a great first step toward a more systematic approach to a coding curriculum.
There are many other apps and softwares specifically designed to use visual learning, colors, and other techniques to teach coding to very young students. Resources include Kodable, The Foos Lightbot, Run Mario Run, Daisy the Dinosaur, Hopscotch, Tynker, and ScratchJr.
Takeaway: To help feed the nation’s need for an expanded STEM workforce, as well as satisfy increased student interest in technology, districts and states should begin systematically exposing kids to coding at a much younger age. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be expensive or hard—a strong network of teaching and software resources, many of them free or inexpensive, is already available.
1. “Teaching Computer Coding in K-12” Homeroom. March 4, 2013.
2. “Programming in K-12 Science Classrooms” Communications of the ACM. November 2015.
3. “A Beginner’s Guide to Bringing Coding Into the Classroom” EdSurge. November 30, 2015.
4. “Computer Science in K-12 Needs to Catch Up” Huffington Post Education. October 2, 2014.
5. “Make Computer Science in K-12 Count!” Code.org. N.d.
6. “Coding in the Classroom” edutopia. 2016.
7. “Adding Coding to Your Elementary Curriculum … Right Now” edutopia. March 17, 2015.
8. “Coding for Kindergarteners” edutopia. July 7, 2014.
9. “Lesson/Activity List for the Hour of Code” Shake Up Learning. 2016.
10. “Tutorials for Beginners” Code.org. 2015.
11. “What Percent of STEM Should Be Computer Science?” Code.org. June 19, 2014.
12. “Underrepresented Minorities in STEM” National Action Council For Minorities in Engineering. N.d.