Coding Classes In US Schools: How Silicon Valley Introduced Them

Coding Classes In US Schools: How Silicon Valley Introduced Them
Imed Bouchrika, Phd by Imed Bouchrika, Phd
Chief Data Scientist & Head of Content

Steve Jobs once mentioned that every person in the U.S. should develop a skill for programming a computer. Fast forward to 2015 and Tim Cook, Jobs’ successor, echoed his words stating that coding is perhaps “the most important second language” and that children across the world would do very well to learn it as a way of self-expression, regardless if they are scientifically or artistically inclined (Adamczyk, 2019). In 2017, Cook brought this idea up to U.S. President Donald Trump, citing how the country’s public school system should include computer science courses, even if the students are not going to pursue computer science career paths.

These CEOs are not on their own in their advocacy to promote the importance of learning how to code, especially among the new generation of learners. Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft Corporation, also believes in this cause (Elkins, 2018). Executives from other major tech companies like Google, Amazon, and Facebook have also been known to support the implementation of coding lessons as part of the K-12 curriculum. With the help of a nonprofit group, Code.org, advancing this agenda has become possible and it all started in the Silicon Valley area.

In this article, we will take a look at how Silicon Valley pushed coding into American classrooms with the help of an industry-backed organization.

Coding In American Classrooms Table of Contents

    1. Code.org: Crucial Role
    2. The Benefits of Learning How to Code
    3. Career Outlook for Individuals with Computer and Information Technology Skills
    4. Coding lessons in school: a timeless advantage or a waste of time?

Code.org: Crucial Role

What is Code.org?

A movement, no matter the size, pushes forward because of the driving force behind it. And behind the goal to make computer science a core part of the public school system is Code.org. Code.org is a nonprofit organization supported by industry giants, including Amazon, Microsoft, and Facebook. It was founded in 2012 by twin brothers Hadi Partovi, an early investor in Airbnb and Facebook, and Ali Partovi who is also an early investor in Dropbox and Zappos. Backed by prominent corporations, tech executives, and other organizations, Code.org has successfully launched its advocacy to bring a computer science course, particularly coding, to the public elementary and high schools first in the Silicon Valley area, then the whole U.S., and eventually the world.

Source: Code.org

The Goals of Code.org

Although the primary goal of the organization is to include coding classes in school, Code.org has bigger goals it aims to achieve, including the following:

  1. Transform K-12 education by categorizing computer science as part of the curriculum. In order to achieve this, Code.org has been establishing strong partnerships with school districts all over the country since 2013. As of now, a total of 74 districts are actively working with Code.org to promote computer science education in their respective schools.
  2. Increase diversity among students who have access to computer science education. Thus far, Code.org has been successful in accomplishing this goal with 50% of the students coming from marginalized groups.
  3. Prepare more computer science teachers at K-12 levels. Code.org offers professional learning programs that help equip K-12 teachers to properly guide their students through computer science lessons.
  4. Implement new policies across the 50 states that support computer science education. Code.org came up with nine ideas for policies in order for computer science to be an integral part of K-12 education (Code.org, n.d.).
      • Create a state plan for K-12 computer science.
      • Define computer science and establish rigorous K-12 computer science standards.
      • Allocate funding to professional learning and course support for teachers.
      • Implement clear certification pathways for computer science teachers.
      • Create programs at higher education institutions that offer computer science to preservice teachers.
      • Establish dedicated computer science positions in state and local education agencies.
      • All secondary schools should be required to offer computer science with appropriate implementation timelines.
      • Allow computer science to satisfy a core graduation requirement.
      • Allow computer science to satisfy an admission requirement at institutions of higher education.
  5. Global expansion. Code.org’s mission to teach computer science to as many students as possible goes beyond the U.S. territories. The organization’s advocacy has reached more than 180 countries and its computer science courses are available in more than 60 languages.

Source: Code Studio Activity

The Hour of Code

One of Code.org’s biggest annual events is the Hour of Code. This event takes place every month of December during the celebration of Computer Science Education Week. During the Hour of Code, participants can choose from an extensive list of hour-long tutorials on programming languages, such as Python and JavaScript, and how to incorporate them in designing games, mobile applications, and more. The tutorials accommodate participants of all ages and with varying levels of expertise. In some way, the Code.org platform works like a learning management system for education. Among others, the event supports the finding that as much as 54% of students enjoy these coding courses and computer science and engineering in general.

Aside from the annual event, teachers are also bringing the Hour of Code experience to their classrooms by creating an account in Code.org and utilizing its extensive library of computer science lessons.

The Benefits of Learning How to Code

Just like how reading and writing are regarded as fundamental skills, coding is now considered as “an essential ability for 21st-century learners” (Stenger, 2017). Being born in the digital age, today’s students will greatly benefit from making coding a form of basic literacy. Coding plays a fundamental role in developing new technologies that play a significant role in our everyday lives and in the continuously developing modern society.

Below are just some of the benefits students can gain from learning how to code from a young age:

Coding helps develop methodical and critical thinking skills.

Programming is not all about acquiring the hard technical skills, but it also involves developing soft skills necessary for program developers. The ability to think methodically and critically is just among the strengths coding can help develop from a young age. By learning how to code, a student also learns the process involved in solving problems, including identifying errors or issues, analyzing the problem from different perspectives, developing potential solutions, deciding the best course of action to take, and finally, acting on the problem to resolve it (Lofton, 2018).

Learning how to code helps students acquire vocational skills.

Students who do not pursue a four-year college education can still set themselves up for a competitive career in the tech industry. The best vocational or trade schools across the United States offer computer programming courses that can be completed within a two-year period or less. Other institutions also offer online certifications, which is just another convenient option for students. Meanwhile, for students who plan to take STEM courses in college, having a computer science background is an advantage.

Implementing computer science courses at K-12 levels can help address the growing talent gap in the tech industry.

The rapid digitization of business processes is calling for more talents that businesses predict they will be lacking in the near future (McKinsey & Company, 2020). The talent shortage in the software development category, however, has already reached 40 million skilled workers globally. This number is expected to grow to 85.2 million workers by 2030 (Daxx, 2020).

Currently, businesses utilize reskilling as one of the more effective tactics in addressing the issue of the talent gap. In a survey conducted by McKinsey & Company among different companies, it identified the skills being prioritized, among which are technological skills.

Technological Skills Prioritized by Businesses to Address Through Reskilling

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Source: McKinsey & Company

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Career Outlook for Individuals with Computer and Information Technology Skills

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment outlook for computer and information technology professions is projected to increase by 11% from 2019 to 2029. Among the top 10 occupations are the following (all median pay indicated are based on 2019 data):

  1. Computer and Information Research Scientists ($122,840 per year). The nature of this job involves creating and designing new approaches and processes to computing technology, as well as innovating existing technologies by discovering new ways of utilizing them.
  2. Computer Network Architect ($112,690 per year). This profession involves designing and building Intranets, wide area networks, local area networks, and other data communication networks.
  3. Software Developers ($107,510 per year). Software engineering degrees have been gaining traction over the years, and with good reason. The employment of software developers is expected to reach 1,785,200 workers by 2029—a 22% projected growth from 2019, which is faster than the average across all professions and/or occupations (BLS, 2020). The promising career outlook stems from the growing demand for software developers as they are the ones responsible for designing new applications, especially for mobile devices. Software developer positions require at least a bachelor’s degree, but having strong knowledge and skills in the latest programming tools and being proficient in multiple programming languages give applicants a significant advantage (BLS, 2020).

    Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections Program

  4. Information Security Analysts ($99,730 per year). Organizations hire information security analysts to help protect their computer systems networks from potential cybersecurity threats and other issues.
  5. Database Administrators ($93,750 per year). Also known as DBAs, database administrators are in charge of organizing and storing relevant data using software systems dedicated to database management.
  6. Computer Systems Analysts ($90,920 per year). Computer systems analysts are involved in studying an organization’s computer systems and finding ways for these systems to make the operations and processes work more efficiently and effectively.
  7. Computer Programmers ($86,550 per year). Computer programmers are responsible for writing and testing codes for software programs and applications.
  8. Network and Computer Systems Administrators ($83,510 per year). Businesses and other organizations rely on network and computer systems administrators to ensure that their computer networks run smoothly during daily operations.
  9. Web Developers ($73,760 per year). To be a web developer, an applicant must at least possess an associate’s degree in course programs relevant to website creation, design, and development.
  10. Computer Support Specialists ($54,760 per year). This job also requires at least an associate’s degree and an applicant must be good at providing customer service; possess good listening, speaking, and writing skills; and have good problem-solving abilities.

Coding lessons in school: a timeless advantage or a waste of time?

While there are powerful organizations that believe teaching K-12 students coding skills brings a number of benefits, there are also those that oppose this view. One of them is Andreas Schleicher, the director of education and skills at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). During his turn to speak at the World Innovation Summit for Education in Paris, he mentioned that teaching students how to code would just be a waste of time. He further elaborated that the coding skills and knowledge the children receive would be useless once they grow up because by then, coding would be outdated.

Coding and programming languages, however, remain the fundamental elements in emerging technologies, such as the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, machine learning, advanced automation, virtual reality, big data, robotics, and more. And while not everyone can and should be coders in the future, it is safe to say that coding is not going away anytime soon, and making it a core part of the K-12 curriculum will not be for naught.

 

References

  1. Adamczyk, A. (2019, April 30). Apple CEO Tim Cook: ‘I think every kid in the world should learn’ this skill. CNBC.
  2. Agrawal, S., De Smet, A., Poplawski, P., & Reich, A. (2020, February 12). Beyond Hiring: How Companies are Reskilling to Address Talent Gaps. New York, NY: McKinsey & Company.
  3. BLS (2020, September 1). Computer and information technology occupations. Occupational Outlook Handbook. Washington, DC: U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  4. Cheney, C. (2018, March 30). Silicon Valley’s role in shifting the education sector from access to outcomes. Devex.
  5. Code.org (2016, May 11). Computing occupations are now the #1 source of new wages in America. Code.org.
  6. Code.org (n.d.). Code.org infographic source data. Code.org.
  7. Code.org (n.d.). Hour of code. Summary of Source Data for Code.org Infographics and StatsCode.org.
  8. Code.org (n.d.). K–12 computer science policy and implementation in states. Code.org.
  9. Code.org (n.d.). Nine policy ideas to make computer science fundamental to K–12 education. Code.org.
  10. Code.org (n.d.). Partner districts. Code.org.
  11. Eleven Fifty Academy (2020, September 29). How coding is impacting the future of technology. ElevenFifty.org.
  12. Elkins, K. (2018, September 6). Bill Gates: ‘Everyone can benefit’ from learning this skill. CNBC.
  13. Kuchler, H. (2017, February 3). Inside Silicon Valley’s classrooms of the future. Financial Times.
  14. Lofton, C. (2018, June 2). Critical thinking skills for developers. Switchup.org.
  15. Malvik, C. (2020, July 13). 9 programming careers for coding connoisseurs. Rasmussen College.
  16. Manyika, J., Lund, S., Chui, M., Bughin, J., Woetzel, J., Batra, P., Ko, R., & Sanghvi, S. (2017, November 28). Jobs Lost, Jobs Gained: What the Future of Work Will Mean for Jobs, Skills, and Wages. New York, NY: McKinsey & Company.
  17. Moutafis, R. (2020, September 29). Software developers might be obsolete by 2030. Towards Data Science.
  18. Singer, N. (2017, June 27). How Silicon Valley pushed coding into American classrooms. The New York Times.
  19. Sokoler, S. (2018, March 8). Why we should teach coding in elementary school. eSchool News.
  20. Stenger, M. (2017, November 27). Coding in education: Why it’s important & how it’s being implemented. InformED.
  21. Turner, C. (2019, February 21). Teaching children coding is a waste of time, OECD chief says. The Telegraph.
  22. Williamson, B. (2017, December 14). Disrupting the Silicon Valley Department of Education. Connected Learning Alliance.

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