A growing number of people in the United States are voicing their beliefs that computer programming should be made mandatory in k-12 core curriculum. There are several examples of this already in-action.
Not surprisingly, Silicon Valley public schools in the Los Altos District have created mandatory computer programming courses for all sixth graders, more than 500 in-total.
In Chicago Public Schools, computer programming was recently placed as a part of the core curriculum; an advancement from its previous position as an elective. The district will provide mandatory programming courses beginning in kindergarten.
“The fact is that in the U.K. and in China, computer science and computer coding is now fundamental to elementary school education, and we’re playing catch-up to that effort,” said Rham Emanuel, Mayor of Chicago, concerning the changes.
Mayor Emanuel’s statement might be a tad exaggerative (I’m not sure about education levels in U.K. and China), but his strong sentiment toward early education in the area of coding is one that is shared by fellow-Chicagoan President Barack Obama.
“Learning these skills isn’t just important for your future, it’s important for our country’s future,” he said, as part of a speech to American students. “If we want America to stay on the cutting edge, we need young Americans like you to master the tools and technology that will change the way we do just about everything.”
Current Situation in the United States
The examples of progressive school districts above are far from the norm in the United States, as 9 out of 10 k-12 schools do not even provide optional computer science courses. According to recent statistics from Code.org, only 2.4 percent of American college graduates have a degree in computer science.
The lack of attention toward computer science in the American public school system combined with the ever-growing technology sector has created a job market thirsty for computer programmers.
According to CNN.com, only graduates of chemical engineering and computer engineering earn more than computer scientists, with an average starting salary around $70,000 in the United States. Many recent college graduates in the area of computer science make much more than this if they can land a job in a company like Google or Facebook.
Over the next few years, 150,000 new jobs for computer programmers will be added annually to the American job market. It is estimated only 30 percent of these new jobs will actually be filled, according to Code.org. The U.S. is scrambling to find solutions to this problem.
The Academic Solution
Obviously, one of the primary solutions to meet the demands of the job market is to encourage more students to learn code and study computer science. However, I think it is too radical of an idea to make computer programming classes mandatory for students from kindergarten onto high school graduation, as some suggest and several schools are working toward.
In an era when schools are facing financial difficulties and cutting music studies, language learning, and gym class, it seems we are at the wrong time to add a new mandatory subject to curriculums for such a lasting amount of time.
Plus, computer programming is not simple to learn. To get people to the level to create programs or applications, for example, takes thousands of hours of practice and probably some natural talent as well. Just take AniMoby Interactive Whiteboard for example; the app that is designed for teachers to use voice and a variety of design tools to make lessons for their students, who can watch anytime/anywhere from any computer or device with internet connection. Coding for apps such as AniMoby, DuoLingo, or WhatsApp, takes the amount of skill that often cannot just be simply taught and learned by the student through hard work. It takes a certain degree of talent.
Those who are unable or unwilling to grasp the concepts should not be forced to continue learning the material from the age of five until 18. Perhaps they could be participating in a subject area where they have more natural ability to succeed, such as shop, foreign language, choir, art, etc.
No matter the demands of the job market, coding is still obviously not as important as fundamental life skills like reading, writing, and basic arithmetic. Thus, it should not be treated as such, and schools should not give it equal time by making it part of the core curriculum. Ensuring students are literate needs to have more of a priority than their computer literacy. We may be in the computer age, but a person is obviously much more limited in the work force if they cannot read, rather than if they cannot code.
However, I think it is a wise idea to include one mandatory computer programming course to introduce the topic and see which students gain interest or have talent in the subject area. This should be done at an early age.
After this mandatory course, students should have the option to continue taking more advanced classes. Since 9 out of 10 U.S. schools do not even offer a computer programming course, this would be a huge jump in the right direction.
I think that there is a middle-ground between making computer programming a part of mandatory core curriculum and not having it at all (where the U.S. is now). I think it would be best to introduce coding to all, and motivate the talented and interested to pursue further studies. But I think it is unwise and probably disruptive to go too quick from almost nothing at all (current state) to everything (mandatory core curriculum).