What should we be teaching the next generation of computer scientists?

What should we be teaching the next generation of computer scientists? As technology changes rapidly, how can the academy respond to the challenge of educating for an unwritten future? John Gilbey went to Silicon Valley to find out. It is commencement weekend at Stanford University and the sidewalks of the campus are sizzling in the full heat of a beautiful June afternoon. The lawns, mown with a precision that would shame many golf courses, are playing host to huge white marquees in which the day’s degree-awarding ceremonies are just ending. The campus has changed since my last visit, and newly sprouted buildings confuse my memory of the route to the computer science department. But by using the concrete beacon of the Hoover Tower as a guide, I manage to find the William Gates building on only my second attempt. I’m in Silicon Valley to talk to some key local figures about the future of how we teach computer science, a topic currently high on the agenda in the UK. The subject is a widely offered and popular undergraduate course of study. According to the latest figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, computer science is offered by 123 UK higher education institutions, and there were 91,565 undergraduates (of all years) studying computer science and related topics during the 2013-14 academic year. The number of students graduating each year has grown from less than 17,000 in 1994-95 to nearly 27,000 in 2013-14. This is down from a peak of more than 37,000 in 2004-05, shortly after the dot-com bubble burst in 2000, but it still accounts for 3.5 per cent of all UK graduates. In the US, graduates from roughly analogous subjects consistently account for a lower proportion of the total graduate cohort: 2.6 per cent in 2011-12, the most recent year for which figures are available. But that still amounted to nearly 50,000 students. Clearly, with numbers this big, we want to make sure we introduce students to materials and ways of thinking that will be both immediately useful in employment and a good foundation for future career development. But the Higher Education Funding Council for England is concerned enough about the extent to which this is happening that it has commissioned a major review to chart a way forward. Read more here.

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Should Computer Science Be A Priority For American’s Kids?

Technology has changed the way we think about education. Tech is about more than just teaching tools, it’s become a teaching priority. STEM is now shaping curriculum in schools across America. Educators and policy makers are trying to nail down new ways to get kids interested and excelling in technology-based learning—and trying to provide them with the resources they need to become competitive in a tech driven future.In the last State of the Union address of his final term, President Barack Obama not only stressed the need to continue on this path, he said that a computer science should be part of the education experience for every child in the nation. However, without a nationwide educational curriculum and computer science courses only available in in about 10% of American high schools, this mission might be quite the challenge. Is one we should face?Image Source: WikimediaProgramming In Grade School?Even if the resources were readily available, including the hardware, software, and qualified  teachers needed to guide students, does it make sense to have kids writing computer code as part of their high school or even grade school experience? Proponents of the President Obama’s goal see this as an inherent part of keeping education relevant in a tech-centric world.Computer science could become as essential as broader STEM subjects like basic mathematics and physics. There’s also the argument that kids are so exposed to computer technology at a young age, that it just makes sense to teach them how it works and how to make it work as they build their skills. Perhaps most the important point to make in favor of computer science in education is the role it could play in a student’s future skill-set and hireability—provided the demand for STEM jobs has remained if not increased, which is more than likely. Read more here.

Can America’s Schools Really Teach Every Kid to Code? 

President Obama recently renewed the call for computer science education, but resources—and teachers—are in short supply. High school students at Dearborn STEM Academy in Dorchester, Massachusetts, a Boston public school, take an intro to programming class. In an increasingly tech-reliant economy, teaching kids computer science in school is so important that President Barack Obama included it in last week’s State of the Union 2016 speech. He told Congress and television viewers that every U.S. student needs “the hands-on computer science and math classes that make them job-ready on day one.”Parents agree: Nine out of every 10 American parents want their kids to learn computer science in school. But just one in four public schools nationwide offer it as part of the curriculum, and nearly half of all states don’t let students use coding or programming classes to fulfill a graduation requirement. Read more here.