Only 17 U.S. states offer graduation credit for computer science — in the others, the class counts only as an elective. In many cases, computer science is absent from course lists suggested for college entry and scholarship applications, said Ericson, who is a senior researcher at Georgia Tech in addition to directing computer outreach.
Sometimes, school administrators lack understanding about what computer science is, and why it is important, Ericson said.
“Schools think computer literacy classes are sufficient — keyboarding, and classes about using computer apps,” she said. “They think they are already doing the right thing. We need to get them to understand that that’s not computer science.”
Stereotypes about computer nerds, and the belief that coding is a pursuit for men only — mainly white men — persist, and dissuade girls and minority students from registering for computer science classes,” Ericson said.
“In my experience, a lot of teachers have the same stereotypes,” she said. “They encourage the kids they think will do well, and discourage the ones they don’t think will do well.”
Changing the culture
Digital giants who ordinarily compete with each other came together last December to promote an Hour of Code designed to get K-12 students and teachers interested in writing code. Google, Yahoo, Apple, Microsoft’s Bing and Disney were among promoters of the event. More than 23 million people learned an hour’s worth of coding skills through such events, sponsored by code.org.
Emadi said 10,000 teachers have signed up for a free coding course offered at the code.org website, which also offers free, interactive courses in coding for learners of all ages. The lowest bar for removing obstacles to computer science education, though, is changing policy to allow computer science to count toward high school graduation in more states, she said.
Efforts are also underway to convince colleges and universities to accept high school computer science as a credit toward scholarships and list it as a preferred course for entrance. Code.org is partnering with school districts around the nation and funding groups to expand computer science offerings in public schools. Microsoft, Google, Amazon and J.P. Morgan are among companies stepping up to help.
Ericson, the Georgia Tech researcher, said it’s never too soon to give children a chance to learn computer science skills.
“Starting young is very important for overcoming stereotypes and confidence and identity problems,” she said.
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