Why is Computer Science Education Important?
Computer science education is essential for preparing students for the future of work. By teaching students about this domain, schools work to fill an inadequate pipeline of computer science graduates and workers, enhance this profession with a focus on equity, build digital skills that are expected of workers in nearly any profession, and cultivate adaptability by future proofing students’ skillsets.
In this article, we’ll dive into these four facets of readiness in depth to better conceptualize the importance of computer science education.
1. Building a Computer Science Pipeline
The first facet of future readiness is building an adequate computer science pipeline. In this equip article, Marcos Navas, the technology facilitator at Union City School District, writes: “The STEM problem is in computer science: 58 percent of all new jobs in STEM are in computing, but 8 percent of STEM graduates are in computer science.”
Navas goes on to explain that, “Computing jobs are the number one source of new wages in the United States. There are currently 500,000 unfilled positions. These jobs are in every state and every industry, and they’re projected to grow at twice the rate of all other jobs.” And it is now projected that by 2020 unfilled computer science positions will double and reach over one million.
The Costs to an Inadequate Pipeline
There are steep penalties to these deficits in available workers, including economic growth, business stagnation, national security, and lifetime earning potential.
For example, some estimates show that the United States is losing a five-billion-dollar opportunity for economic growth, and businesses can lose up to 150,000 dollars when trying fill each open computer science position. National security is also affected by this skills gap, especially our cybersecurity.
Arguably the most important, however, is that salaries for computer science are over double the national average. Without having access to learning that drives students toward computer science, they are unable to benefit from these higher paying positions.
In Pursuit of Inclusive Future Readiness
In an equip interview with Stacy Lane, the Director of Coding Programs at the Marquette Tech District, I asked her what future ready means, and she explained:
“Being future ready means having the critical thinking and problem-solving skills needed to be successful at whatever jobs develop so that today’s students can support themselves and their families with dignity in the workplace someday.”
Indeed, computer science elevates students’ career prospects and their lifetime earning potential, empowering them to uplift and support their families. These salaries then fuel the economy and can even encourage tech investment into previously overlooked communities.
Like so much else we will discuss here, this topic could be an entire dissertation. What we are wanting to highlight, though, is that an ample computer science pipeline is essential to all of society, from a national to personal level.
2. Boosting Equity in Computer Science
As we are talking about building an adequate pipeline of students to fill vacant computer science jobs, it’s also necessary to focus on cultivating equity in the pipeline.
Currently, women earn 18 percent of computer science degrees, and estimates predict that by 2025, women will hold only 20 percent of all computer science positions.
Minority groups are also underrepresented in computer science majors with only 10 percent and 12 percent of all degrees going to Black and Latinx students, respectively. And in the field, only 12 percent and 16 percent of all workers are Black and Latinx.
To succinctly and briefly delve into the cause of these trends, we will turn to a report commissioned by Google, which explains that females, blacks, and Latinos are more likely to lack access and exposure to computer science; and these groups also face long-standing social barriers that skew self-perception and whether they feel a sense of belonging in the field, which often halts their interest and advancement.
Pipeline Build: From a purely numbers standpoint, the more students who are exposed and encouraged to pursue compute science will help to temper the insufficient computer science pipeline.
Technology Accessibility: The design and function of technology is biased toward those developing it. For example, speech recognition software with smart speakers is more likely to understand men than women, and the same is true for people with non-American accents. Another example is that facial recognition software repeatedly fails to recognize women and people of color, which again comes down to the gender and race of those designing it.
Wealth Gaps: Finally, greater equity in the computer science workforce will also help to close gender and racial wealth gaps by enabling these groups to access higher incomes that empower them, their family, and their community.
To remedy these divides, it’s essential that computer science education starts young. A study by Computer Science Education Week found that the likelihood women will major in computer science increases tenfold when they are enrolled in AP Computer Science, and Black and Latinx students are seven times more likely to major in it when having enrolled in advanced high school courses.
Moreover, early, continual, and intentional exposure is essential to help students reach these more advanced computer science courses that serve as a launchpad into computer science higher education.
In order to do so, schools need to overcome the middle school cliff, which is where female and minority students often drop out of STEM courses. Instruction must start at a young age to break through these stereotypes and help overcome this notorious hurdle that prevents students from delving into more advance classes and building skills in computer science.
3. Developing Computer Science Skills
The need for computer science education extends well beyond directing students toward degrees in computer science; future readiness also comes down to computer science skills used across a variety of domains that fall outside of the computer science field.
Exhibit A: A report by Burning Glass Technologies assessed the five fastest-growing and highest-paying job domains and determined that 62 percent are computer science related, but only 18 percent of these require a computer science degree. The relevant skills in these domains include programming, web development, robotics, and data analysis.
Exhibit B: Separately, researchers at Grovo and LinkedIn analyzed job listings to identify the most in-demand skills. Their findings noted the necessity of computer science and digital skills for career readiness outside of the computer science field; top skills include application use and flexibility, development and digital production, computing, data analysis, digital security, and media literacy.
Exhibit C: This trend was also confirmed in a separate research study by Mckinsey & Company, which found that the fastest accelerating career readiness skills needed between now and 2030 are digital skills. According to the study, there will be a 60 percent increase in the number of hours people spend at work using digital skills like programming, data analysis, and technology design.
The Omnipotence of Computer Science
Together, these studies affirm that workers are expected to have both experience with computer science and well-developed digital skills even in roles outside of the computer science realm.
As computer science becomes so deeply inseparable from our work, this skillset is essential to career readiness across a multitude of industries and job functions. With well-developed computer science and digital skills, students are more competitive in the job market for high-paying and quickly growing job domains.
4. Cultivating Adaptability
At the same time, rapid technology advances also cause future readiness to include the ability to constantly re-skill and upskill to keep up with change.
For example, a Dell Technology report found that 85 percent of forecasted jobs for 2030 still do not exist yet largely because technology is expanding so rapidly. Similarly, a Deloitte report finds that the half-life of skills is now five years, and companies will need to invest in continual professional development for workers.
The Era of a Growth Mindset
What this signifies is that students are preparing for jobs that are yet to be imagined. When they graduate, they need to know how to grow into the roles available to them. Future-ready skills now entail knowing how to learn, adapt, and embrace change and ambiguity, especially in the face of technology advancements.
And computer science is critical to addressing this. Computer science is more than just a set of digital skills; it is a mindset founded on problem solving, critical and creative thinking, and metacognition. Computer science teaches students how to think, learn, and grow.
With the knowledge of how programming languages work, how computing systems operate, and how networks drive connectivity, students understand technology and its adaptations and advancements – how to develop, troubleshoot, improve, and use it. Whether in their home, school, or work life, students need foundational computer science skills to continuously grow and adapt throughout their lifetime.