The United States faces a global competitiveness crisis that, if not addressed, will put our nation at a strategic disadvantage for decades to come. In just a few years, there will be 1.8 million jobs unfilled in our nation because we don’t have enough individuals trained with the necessary technical skills to fill them.
President Obama’s budget proposal, which includes $4 billion for computer science education, is a welcome step, but, candidly, we need a national strategy to solve the fundamental challenge. Today, only one in 10 schools across the U.S. offers programming classes. This must change.
Organizations like Code.org, which won a Crunchie Award for biggest social impact, are stepping up to the plate and teaching students how to code. But this challenge requires a public/private partnership between government, nonprofits and the private sector.
So, what should we as a nation do to address the challenge?
First, every secondary school in America should be required to offer computer science, and those classes should count toward core science or math high school graduation requirements. We must also make sure there are robust and sustained programs to train and recruit high-quality computer science teachers. It’s not enough for students to use technology, they need to learn how to make it work.
Second, we must ensure that computer science programs are available to students of all backgrounds, particularly to young women and students from underserved communities. Mentoring and programs that provide real-life, hands-on, project-based opportunities can inspire students to pursue computer science and STEM careers.
Programs like US2020 and Million Women Mentors are working to connect students with engineers and other leaders in the technology industry. We have to ignite a spark of interest in technology so that students see how careers in STEM open the door to a world of opportunity.
Third, we must ensure innovation in the classroom through the use of digital content and tools to provide individualized, data-based learning and improve educational outcomes. Today, teachers are only scratching the surface of what’s possible through the use of tablets, digital tools and rich media. We must make sure that digital learning resources and technology integration in the classroom are available to all.
And, finally, there must be high-speed wireless broadband in every classroom in America within five years to ensure that the students can connect to the Internet quickly, easily and reliably. Without high-speed connectivity, digital education is only a promise. We need to make sure that students are able to put entire libraries of information at their fingertips, as well as have access to incredible science experiments and other rich media.
We must recognize that computer science is fundamental. Every student in the United States should learn about algorithms, how the Internet works or how to make an app. But more important, computer science teaches kids to be problem solvers and innovators. Helping students develop these skills will benefit them in every subject, in the classroom and beyond.
This won’t happen overnight; it’s a generational challenge. But we need to start now to expand the pool of students trained in computer science and the other STEM disciplines in order to find the next great American innovator and encourage millions upon millions of students to pursue careers in these groundbreaking fields.