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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