Opinion Post- Tech Education, Its a First World Problem

This post is to clearly discuss an opinion I have on where I think we’re failing our current and next generation on technical education.  So I’ll start out with a disclaimer.

1.  It’s my opinion and no one else’s.  Not my employer, not my genders and not anyone but mine.

2.  Its a whole lot easier to write here in a blog post than in a twitter conversation, no matter how much I enjoy chatting with everyone, including Jeff Smith and Bradd Piontek… 🙂

The basis for the discussion was an article that can be found here.  Although the article was called, “The Real Reasons There Aren’t More Women in Tech”, the Problem #1 really is something I believe hits America hardest and this is not just impacting women in tech.  Women are just more impacted because girls require the opportunities to be offered to them earlier on than boys for those opportunities to be successful.

When I was in high school, I took an elective programming class.  My children are barely offered any computer classes unless they offer to attend the alternative school in the area that is recognized for the attendance by teens with behavioral issues.  This seems very odd for anyone who is thinking, “What does this mean for the future of technology employees?”  There are varied responses on what level of technology is offered by state for technical education in the US, but it’s still quite difficult to understand when you look at these statistics.

  • 41 states schools do not require any computer classes for graduation.
  • 90% of schools do not offer computer classes

For my state’s school system, mandatory computer class entails a middle school requirement that can override the high school class, which involves teaching Microsoft Office and how to format a USB drive.  Sorry, that’s Office Technology, it’s not Information Technology.  They are TWO DIFFERENT THINGS.  Once kids reach high school, for computer programming to be a passion for many, is too late to be considered an opportunity for a career!

Now back to my generation-  many of us were offered a programming class.  IT was the future.  Around this time, 1982, (yes, I’m aging myself!) there were just over 600,000 home computers.  Information Technology positions were still only a small percentage of the American workforce and workstations were often unheard of in offices, which mostly preferred typewriters or dedicated word processors.

Now back to modern times.  You would be hard-pressed to find a home without at least one pc and almost everyone has a tablet and children are walking around with smartphones.  STEM careers are projected to increase by 1.4 million jobs by 2020. There are consistent concerns by the US Dept. of Labor that we aren’t prepared to meet these demands with the American Labor force and many are complaining that jobs are being filled by skilled employees overseas.

All this and yet the solution I feel sits right in front of us and we should have started addressing it quite some time ago.  We have requirements for English Literature and History, (all very important…) but how many English Lit and History majors are out of work?  Why is computer programming introduced so late into our children’s education, (if at all) and is still an elective?

I’m not the only one  questioning our idea of what is a “core” education.   We need to embrace the idea that our children should be introduced to programming in elementary and by the time they are out of high school, they should be able to fulfill the requirements for an entry level computing programming position in the workforce just as easily as they can fulfill other entry level jobs.

OK, off my soapbox… 🙂

Posted in WIT   

Author: dbakevlar


Comments Closed

  • Becky

    I make these comments as a former high school teacher. As with all eduction it starts in the home. That’s where the excitement begins and is developed. Everything cannot be the responsibility of our broken education system. We can’t just place a new curriculium requirement of CS into the mix. The system has to be torn down and rebuilt. The
    Kahan Academy is an awesome example of how education can be changed and the addition of much needed skills offered to kids at younger ages. Instead of just teaching math, reading and science in a vacuum it’s taught as it relates to life and other skills. I hated math and science in school why because they never related it to the world around me. If we start education off with technology as the media and we teach math that leads to computer science and science as it applies to electronics then we will better prepare our children. Use gasification stop treating the education system as a prep for
    testing and teach our future generation what will be needed in the future. During college I took a reading in the continent area class. The goal was how to develop readers through social studies. The same concept can be used a social studies project to develop a game about international diplomacy — we did something similar with board games now they make it happen through computers.

    My personal opinion about why there’s not more women in tech is a combination of several factors but not just any particular reason. Introducing CS earlier in school will add more women but probably no more than the new boys. You have to follow the lead on how Harley and the motorcycle industry got more women in two wheels. How sports are getting more women into the different games. You have to market the product to girls at a young age.

  • Christine Cochran

    I have recently been re-reading of of my favorite books entitled ‘The Existential Pleasures of Engineering” written by Samuel C. Florman. He too addresses the lack of women (and minorities) in the field of engineering, which is another highly technical field. I particularly like this piece:

    “We should stop looking at engineering school as a boot camp designed to eliminate all but the most dogged recruits. We should stop making the first two years the obstacle course they have become – consisting of calculus, physics, and chemistry. We should bring practical, creative, “fun” engineering into every year, particularly the first, and teach mathematics and sciences as enabling complements to engineering rather than isolated afflictions to be endured. ”

    I also agree with Becky, marketing is crucial. We have to find a way to show young women the ‘existential pleasures’ of IT.

  • Kellyn,
    I am a former computer instructor who made the transition to business almost 15 years ago, so take the following with a grain of salt.

    I think that it is important to understand what the reported statistics are showing, and what the statistics are not showing. One of the articles that you linked to included a link to another article that showed how the “90% of schools do not offer computer class” statistic was calculated. That article essentially stated that AP (advanced placement) computer science classes were only available in 10% of schools, and that “part of the problem is that the course is primarily focused on Java programming.” So, advanced placement classes in computer programming are offered in 10% of schools, and typically Java programming is taught in those classes.

    I think that if we specifically define learning computer science as taking programming classes, the 41 states statistic might be accurate. Way back in the 1980s computer literacy essentially meant learning computer programming, often in Basic and/or COBOL and/or Pascal. The definition of computer literacy eventually morphed from a computer programming focus to a computer application focus as the requirements of businesses changed. Today, an accountant at a company, for example, might never need to write programming code (a Lotus/Excel macro for instance) or understand control-break logic to be successful as an accountant, while the situation was likely very different in the 1980s and early 1990s. An accountant does need to understand how to effectively use (and learn how to learn to use) computer applications, whether that be Microsoft Office, a specific ERP (enterprise resource planning) package, or a specific accounting package. The same is likely true for other careers that are not specifically IT industry focused.

    While the states’ education department establishes the minimum requirements for graduation, as far as I am aware, an individual school system within the state is able to define more stringent computer education requirements. A school system would likely have difficulty justifying that a computer science programming class meets the state’s requirements for a mathematics or science class.

    Extensive computer science classes beyond basic computer literacy are potentially a very expensive undertaking for a school system. I fear that some school systems equate giving away a free iPad (or laptop) to all students is a misguided approach to improving the exposure of students to computer technology (or dare I say computer science). I personally would be delighted to see a greater focus on computer programming electives in schools, with a greater percentage of girls in those classes (there was a nearly even ratio in both the required and elective classes that I taught). One of the interesting inroads to achieving those goals are activities such as the FIRST robotics competition http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FIRST_Robotics_Competition which has an increasing number of high schools listed as participants.

  • I’m going to attempt to reply once for these last three great comments. I was hoping to steer away from WIT on this one, so understand if I don’t address that topic here and focus on youth technology education. I agree that our broken education system is a difficult subject and one that may very well require a complete overhaul to address. The waiting list to get into a charter school in Colorado is astoundingly long, hoping for a better education for our children. I think the largest challenge is that we aren’t looking at labor demands and comparing it to what we think equals a good education. How good is it if our children aren’t able to survive in the real world?
    My older children have stated repeatedly that they’re not sure how they would survive if not for the education they receive from home, but lets be honest- our kids are the ones that are programming most parents VCRs, setting up most family computers and technology. An expectation for the previous generation to teach the next generation about the future of technology is only going to happen in very few homes. This is where we need our schools to help prepare our future workforce.
    As for the IPad fiasco that Charles for sees? Yes, I can easily see this happening as well. My kid’s high school is currently discussing the demands for text book purchases. One of the teachers, instead of putting in a purchase order for extra hard copies, turned her textbook into a PDF and the kids have been using it on their IPad/Tablets when they forget to bring theirs to class. The teacher is now under some serious scrutiny right now, (no, not about the copying of the book!) as the school is concerned that they will be required to provide IPads/Tablets for the kids. Common sense is not common. We all know that.
    Currently my children’s high school has 32 PCs in their computer lab with Windows XP on them that they are very proud of. They have everything they need, hardware wise to teach the class. They need to start thinking out of box. RMOUG puts on labs throughout the year. With the assistance of Regis, local business’ and such, we provide education for the DBAs and Developers in the community. All I’m saying here, is that education does not need to be costly to be valuable. Work with what you have and figure out how to provide for our next generation.