Originally published to NewsWeek - March 23rd, 2022
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, computer science jobs are projected to grow 13% between 2020 and 2030. Still, less than half of all K-12 schools in the U.S. teach computer science as part of the curriculum.
Given all we know about where our economy is headed and what it will take to compete in tomorrow's labor market, why aren't we doing more to prepare young people for in-demand jobs of the future? What's preventing us from infusing more tech and digital literacy tools into our lesson plans?
"The biggest obstacle is time," Jackie Smalls said in a recent conversation on my podcast. Smalls is the chief programs officer at Code.org, a platform that teaches computer science to more than 60 million students each year. "You have to find the time outside of English, math and social studies — and unless there is buy-in from the administration, teachers are going to stick to those core subjects."
Understandably, many districts and school boards are reluctant to divert resources or class time away from the subjects that are tested on state assessments. In those cases where districts do buy into innovative edtech, who is going to teach it? Most teachers don't hold degrees in computer science. How can we get to a place where enough teachers know enough about tech to guide a lesson properly?
All of the above questions are important to address — and not just because there will be more computer science jobs to fill in decades to come. In fact, many students who benefit from these programs won't end up working as developers or software engineers; but they will end up with a greater capacity for creativity, problem solving and collaboration (skills that will prove valuable in whatever career field they choose).
What's more, infusing more technology into our curricula doesn't have to be a binary choice between the three Rs on one hand, and ones and zeroes on the other. These subjects can actually enrich and build on each other when executed and aligned the right way — and we're already seeing some schools around the country take steps that others can follow:
1. Make teacher training more accessible.
We've had teacher training programs available for some time, but they've been difficult to scale and make accessible for every teacher, in every jurisdiction — until now. Through partnerships with organizations like Code.org, Carnegie Mellon and Microsoft, school districts are enabling more and more teachers to learn the curriculum quickly and begin sharing the content with their students. As they do, they encourage other teachers to follow their lead by demonstrating that you don't have to be a professional tech whiz to teach a quality tech program.
By partnering with local organizations across the country, providers can make quality training accessible in more ways than one — and teachers should be encouraged to take advantage of them.
2. Dont replace subjects with tech, enrich them with tech.
We've learned thattechnology isn't something that has to compete for time with other subjects; but rather a force multiplier that makes learning these subjects more active, engaging and personalized.
Dr. Robert Rippee, executive director of the Black Fire Innovation Hub at the University of Nevada Las Vegas and an expert in the gaming industry, put it this way on a recent episode of my podcast: "I ask my students to name the first video game they remember playing. It's not something they played on Nintendo or Xbox. It's Oregon Trail. In their first gaming experience, they weren't just introduced to new technology; they were learning about history, geography, topography and so much more."
We should heed the lesson that the gamification of education works.With a wealth of information at their fingertips, students don't have to sit and be told the answers anymore; they can be given a problem and sent out to find the solution on their own. And as our modern workforce becomes less about what you know and more about what you can learn, this is precisely the model we should be striving for.
3. Address equity issues and influence district leaders.
There is a digital divide that persists in American households, and it is drawn down racial, ethnic and socioeconomic lines. U.S. Census Bureau data indicates that Black and Hispanic households are 1.3 and 1.4 times more likely than white households to experience tech inaccessibility, respectively — and those figures hold true for our schools as well. More affluent districts overwhelmingly have access to computer science programs while many communities of color get left behind.
As such, parents and educators need to push for computer science curricula that are built with these communities in mind. Students need to be able to relate to the content and understand why it's relevant to them. If we are able to integrate technology into lessons on math, science, reading and other subjects, then we should be able to integrate culture as well.
And what about districts that are slow to embrace change? The pandemic has shined a light on many areas in which schools can and should do better. Our approach to technology shouldn't be any different. Now is the time to push harder for adoption of tech-driven curriculum in every K-12 school across the country.
With a little creativity and investment, we can turn technology education into something that not only better prepares our students for the careers of tomorrow, but that improves their performance in core subjects today.