It’s computer science education week.
We are anticipating the largest learning event in history through the Hour of Code this week. While I’m writing this column, 147,908,891 learners have received a cost-free introduction to coding and computer science around the globe and across 40 different languages.
Google, Facebook, SalesForce, Disney Infinity, Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, College Board, PopCap, and other corporate partners are investing to help drive the movement. STEM and tech skills are recognized in the board room as vital to success, and to building and sustaining a reliable pipeline of talent.
Computer science can easily be pointed to as part of the “T” in STEM (an acronym for science, technology, engineering, and math). But that’s not quite the full picture.
Companies across industries, from aviation and aerospace to healthcare and logistics, already get it. Programming, critical thinking, coding, and computer proficiency are needed among workers now, and will be needed increasingly in years ahead as technology continues to evolve. Problem-solving and creativity are outcomes that occur when we break down the silos between the letters of the acronym. They occur when we work across individual disciplines, roll up our sleeves, and engage abstract concepts and creativity to build, understand, engineer, solve, and collaborate.
The way we interact with machines in daily consumer and work life has dramatically evolved. We once used a telephone, a fax machine, a courier, a television, a VCR, a white board, a magazine rack, a book shelf. We now have single devices providing multiple services. Industry has kept pace with these shifts. When I first learned to code in Basic as a kid in the ’80s, I worked on big, boxy Macs with green cursors that took minutes sometimes to process entries. All levels of professionals now use graphic-rich and user-friendly intermediary apps and programs to complete many tasks, from designing websites with a few simple clicks to monitoring health data.
Today, data plays a big role in operational and strategic decisions for industry. Ships and logistics systems use timing and information to track inventory and continuously improve shipment and inventory processes. On the manufacturing floor, computers guide production of life-saving equipment, and delicate machine components. The workers who can adapt to new tech skills have an advantage. Those who can create new apps, intermediary software and interfaces, and technologies even more so.
The boardroom gets it. The question of ensuring a workforce with computing skills isn’t just a question of checking the box for the “T” in STEM. It’s about providing the tools of today, and engaging with hands-on opportunities to learn, explore, and create across subjects and problems. It has taken us too long to understand that our kids often are left without the tools needed to speak in the language of modern industry. If coding and programming are so vital to innovation, creativity, industry, and job readiness why haven’t we prepared ourselves and our kids?
Computer science is still often in a silo. STEM programming in general is frequently cornered off from “regular” curricula.
The STEM Act of 2015 moves our definition forward to acknowledge that learning doesn’t just happen in the classroom. To that end, programming in science centers, museums, after-school programs, camps, and other spaces can receive allocations of existing federal funding for STEM programming. Further, the Act instructs the National Science Foundation to continue to fund extracurricular programs in STEM fields.
While an hour is great to introduce a child to the world of coding and programming, it’s the long-haul that counts. Up until this point, we have largely neglected the need for the tech skills that hold such significant relevance to our industries, workforce readiness, and our economic competitiveness. STEM, and computing specifically, has long been a literacy area we have all but ignored.