As a former public school teacher and advocate for students everywhere, one issue that concerns me is the lack of access to computer science classes for students in K-12 schools.
The graph below shows the number of AP exam takers in various subjects.
It is immediately obvious that computer science has not seen the growth in enrollment that other subjects have.
But why? Considering that computing is arguably the fastest-growing industry in society today, how is it that our students are not exposed to the study of such a relevant and important subject?
This is a multi-faceted issue, but first, there is a serious shortage of computer science teachers. As a result, currently, only about 10% of high schools in the U.S. offer a computer science course.
To make matters worse, 97% of students who elect to study computer science in college choose the major because they have had prior exposure to computer science before entering college. So what about the students who did not have that opportunity?
Just put the numbers together: most high schools don’t offer computer science, yet only those who have been exposed to it consider it as a possible future career. We can deduce, then, that for most high school students in the nation, pursuing computer science is not even a viable option; they simply aren’t aware of the opportunities that exist.
Computer science is also suffering from an image problem. It is commonly (and mistakenly) thought of as a profession for privileged white males, sitting in cubicles typing away in front of a computer all day, eventually to suffer from extreme boredom and carpal tunnel, and die a lonely death. But that is far from the truth.
Programming is a creative endeavor, with as much opportunities for critical thinking and teamwork as any other field. It is an important and integral part in a variety of areas in society today. Computer professionals work for diverse employers, not just for tech companies. They are the ones who create the tools to make sense of data to inform policy to better the world. They help create technologies that cure diseases. They work with physicists and artists to create the algorithms to simulate the reflection of light or the movement of a strand of hair of a character in Pixar movies. They create platforms like Kiva that empower the marginalized to become entrepreneurs. They write the programs to auto-navigate spacecrafts, such as the MSL Curiosity Rover which, in a split second after the heat shield came off, made a decision on the safest landing-spot, and miraculously guided itself to actually land there softly, all in a low-pressure, low-gravity environment that could not have been replicated for practice here on Earth.
Anyone who wants to make a difference in the world can get off to a flying start by combining their passion with the knowledge of computer science.
If you are a high school student reading this, I encourage you to give it a try. Take a CS course or join a club if your school has it. If not, there are tons of online courses to get you started, and if you can, sign up for summer coding programs like Girls Who Code and others available in your area. It might just change your life.
If you are in college, chances are good that your school offers an introductory CS course available for non-CS majors. Enroll in it, and you might discover a new passion that you never knew existed.
If you are an adult, it is never too late to start learning. I know many people who got started in this field post-college and have grown to love it. Start taking introductory online courses, and attend meetups to see if there are others like you who might be looking for a study buddy. As far as online courses go, I really like the contents available on websites like Udacity, CodeCademy, and Khan Academy. They are all great places to get started, and each have their unique strengths, so see which one fits your learning style, or try them all.
Happy new year!