There was an interview last month with the governor of Rhode Island, Gina Raimondo, posted at http://freakonomics.com/podcast/modern-democrat-win/. The governor sounds like an eminently reasonable person (to my political sensibilities), and at one point in the conversation, to subject of Computer Science came up.
From the posted transcript:
In terms of preparing the populace for the labor scenario that’s coming down the road, I know you’ve been pushing to have every student in Rhode Island take computer-programming classes. Is that a thing already?
RAIMONDO: It’s happening now. We set a goal, I think a year or so ago, that by the end of this year we would be teaching computer science in every district and every grade, starting in kindergarten. And we’re going to hit that goal this year.
So, I hear about this kind of thinking a lot, and I certainly understand the appeal and the resonance. But I do also wonder if there’s a proven upside of having everyone learn computer science or programming. It strikes me a little bit like the equivalent of having every student in America during the boom of the internal combustion engine learn to take apart a carburetor. And then I think, if you look at the history of economics and progress, that one of the main strengths of economic progress is the division of labor and specialization, rather than everybody chasing after the latest trends. So I’m curious what the evidence was that inspired that move of yours.
I think of it as access and exposure, and also just providing people with a basic level of essential skills. So, everyone has to take math. They may become a writer, they may become an actor, but they ought to have a certain basic level of math skills. First of all, because it’s an essential skill to function. And by the way, they might like math. I think digital skills are the same thing. No matter what job you have, you have to have some basic familiarity with computer skills and digital skills. And so it is as essential in this economy as any other skill that we teach. But also, we know — and there’s loads of data on this girls, people of color, and low-income folks are less likely to go into I.T. fields, which tend to be higher-paying. However, if they’re exposed to some computer training, they’re much more likely to go into the field and do well at it.
“Access and exposure.” That about sums it up. Without even weighing in on the question of whether or not students should be required to take computer science, how do we go about providing them with “access and exposure” to this subject?
There’s some degree of irony in all of this given that most of us who are computer scientists now never had anything close to the degree of “access and exposure” students have available to them now. My “first computer” was a teletype with a modem link to a PDP-11 at the local hospital, and we were lucky to have it. (Cue the obligatory reference to Monty Python’s “Four Yorkshiremen” sketch, at https://youtu.be/26ZDB9h7BLY.) Today, students have access to smartphones, inexpensive laptops, even Raspberry Pis, and more YouTube tutorials that you could hope to watch explaining how to program, how to develop, how to download…
It seems to me that students do have access, but the exposure is what’s missing at this point.
And that’s where CS teachers can be most valuable.
For those of you who teach at the high school level, does your school require a Computer Science class for graduation? What do you think of the idea of requiring Computer Science for graduation–yea or nay?