What is one common denominator between aerospace, construction, manufacturing, health care and financial services? It only takes observing Utah’s economy to discover the answer: technology. No matter the industry, no matter the job, technology is — and will continue to be — the driving force of our economy.
That is why computer science education is rightfully at the forefront of educators’ and business leaders’ minds as they grapple with how to best prepare our future workforce. In order to compete in an ever-evolving technological world, Utah’s students must be equipped with the computing skills and digital knowledge to be successful in their chosen profession. Despite this understanding, there is a gap between what students, parents, teachers and business leaders know is needed and current reality. While great strides have been made to ensure access to digital tools within Utah classrooms, robust computer science education is not available for students at many schools across the state.
Technology, automation and software are changing everything, and now more than ever, knowledge in these areas is fundamental to a well-rounded K-12 education. Last year, the Utah State Board of Education assembled public and private sector partners to form the Computer Science Task Force with a vision that each student in Utah’s public schools will have access to robust and varied computer science courses by 2022.
After months of research and discussion, the Task Force developed and the Board of Education adopted a framework of recommendations for how to integrate computer science competencies into all grade levels and classrooms. The framework includes concepts such as computing devices, data and privacy, cybersecurity, the internet, algorithms and programming.
HB227 Utah Computer Science Grant Act, sponsored by Rep. John Knotwell, R-Herriman, and Sen. Ann Millner, R-Ogden, was introduced during the first week of the legislative session. The legislation will allow professional development grants to be awarded to local school districts that help train teachers in computer science as well as implement the recommendations from the Computer Science Task Force into existing curriculum. This includes everything from advanced placement computer science courses all the way down to kindergarten and first grade coding basics.
In a recent survey regarding Utah’s computer science education landscape, teachers who have already integrated these framework concepts into their classrooms responded with numerous student success stories.
“Students who struggle in other academic areas are having success coding,” one elementary school teacher responded. “Paired programming has increased student interaction and communication. … Students are showing a great deal of perseverance even with very challenging coding projects.”
Technical expertise and the ability to problem-solve, communicate and think critically are all gained through a high-quality computer science education. Although not all students will go on to pursue a degree in computer science, the skills and knowledge gained through coursework will help graduates excel in a variety of career pathways. In order for every student in Utah to have access to high-quality computer science education, additional investment is critical.
This holistic approach to computer science education, coupled with the passage of HB227, are keys to the success of achieving our shared vision for computer science in every classroom by 2022.Comment on this story
We applaud our friends at Silicon Slopes for drawing attention to this important issue and for their commitment to match funds appropriated by the legislature as part of HB227. It is easy to look at Utah’s booming technology ecosystem as the singular reason to advance more robust computer science education in our schools, but keep in mind that a skilled technology talent pool will help the small business on Main Street in Cedar City or the manufacturing company in Salt Lake County just as much as it will help a technology giant in Lehi.
We must not lose sight of the opportunities high-quality computer science education can provide for our state — engaged students, a skilled and qualified workforce and young citizens ready to take on the jobs of tomorrow. By making an investment in computer science education, our Legislature can help secure the future of our workforce and economy.