Get with the Programming!

This week marks what would have been the 106th birthday of Grace Hopper—an American Naval Officer known to some as “Amazing Grace” and to others as the “Mother of Computing,” whose work laid the foundation for one of the first modern computer programming languages. In recognition of her pioneering example, students, parents, schools, and communities across the Nation are spending a week in celebration of computer science education.

Computer science—or, more generally, computing—drives our economy, accelerates the pace of discovery, and empowers the Nation with new tools to remain competitive in the face of evolving and emerging challenges. For members of the American workforce whose expertise we depend on to tackle those challenges, computation skills have never been more important—they enable the creation of new technologies and help us adapt existing technologies for entirely new purposes. Employers and job creators recognize this. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that occupations in the computer and information technology sector will grow by 22 percent from 2010 to 2020—as businesses, governments, and organizations recognize the need to adopt and implement the latest technologies.

That’s why the Nation needs more students getting a computer science education that prepares them to become part of a skilled workforce when they graduate. It’s also why the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) community is working to reverse a worrying trend recently reported by the U.S Department of Education—that a smaller percentage of American high school graduates earned computer science credits in 2009 than did in 1990.

A number of Administration activities such as the Educate to Innovate campaign and collaborative efforts with leading companies, foundations, non-profits, and academia like 100Kin10 are doing just that by encouraging broader participation of students in STEM subjects and preparing more essential STEM teachers to educate them.

Other initiatives, like the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) CS 10K Project, are homing in on computer science education specifically. The goal of CS 10K is to “develop an effective new high school curriculum for computing, taught in 10,000 high schools by 10,000 well-qualified teachers by 2015.” Already, two new high school courses, an introductory course called Exploring Computer Science, and an Advanced Placement course called CS Principles, have been piloted in more than 30 high schools (and, in the case of the AP course, in more than 20 colleges and universities). NSF is now supporting the development of models and modules for training educators to teach the new curricula. But fully scaling-up the project to 10,000 teachers in 10,000 schools will require an all-hands-on-deck effort.

Fortunately, communities, schools, and organizations across the country are stepping up to lead and contribute. All throughout this week—from December 9 through 16th—they’ll be telling their stories and raising awareness about the importance of computer science education as part of the annual Computer Science Education Week (CSEdWeek).

This year’s theme, Computer Science Fuels the Future, acknowledges that the students of today will be the Nation’s skilled workforce of the future and that a solid computer science education is one of the best ways to put these students on track for success.

To learn more about what the NSF is doing to celebrate Computer Science Education week, please visit: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=126243

Lauren Andersen is a Policy Advisor at OSTP

Jan Cuny is a Program Officer for Computing Education for the 21st Century at NSF

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