There are more than 42,000 public and private high schools in the U.S., yet only 2,100 of these schools are authorized to offer the computer science AP course. In our modern era when the need for software skills is only increasing,less than 5% of high schools offer this course? How is this possible?
Schools are facing budget cuts, a lack of computer science teachers, and no standard agreement on curriculum. Any of these three challenges alone are daunting, but taken together they are disheartening. There is no short term fix on the horizon. Yet beyond high school there will be 120,000 new jobs next year requiring a bachelors degree in computer science according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. And our universities and colleges will produce only 40,000 new bachelors degrees in computer science to fill them! Something isn't adding up. There is a disconnect somewhere between high school, college, and the labor market demand. In an a time of high unemployment it seems like a slam dunk to get a computer science degree but not enough students are enrolling and doing so. Whether it starts at the high school or college level or earlier there is a problem.
A recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal by Brad Smith of Microsoft shines a light on these facts. He also points out that "too many Americans can't find jobs, yet too many companies can't fill open positions." The national unemloyment rate has hovered around 8% for several years while the rate in computer-related occupations was only 3.4%. The jobs are there for the kids who develop the right skills. Mr. Smith writes that Microsoft has over 6000 job openings in the U.S. many of them for software developers and engineers. He also laments the lack of computer science courses at the high school level.
Four decades after Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were teenagers, we still live in a country where you have to be one of the fortunate few to take computer science in high school.
There are smart people working on these problems at the high school and college level and hopefully there will be significant breakthroughs in the next few years.
But we can't wait around. We need to rekindle a sense of curiousity, wonder, and play around technology and computer programming. Instead of making the kids listen to a lecture about sorting algorithms and search strees, they need to be working hands-on creating something that sparks their interest. They need to be getting together with their peers having fun and seeing what's possible. At Start Code we are doing this now. We are doing it every week with our many groups of elementary, middle, and high school kids and we are having fun along with them. It's a great time to learn about programming and technology with wonderful tools like Scratch, Python, Java and more. We are thrilled to be doing it and hope you will join us.