Here’s what you need to know.
In breaking with the tradition of 2017’s many angry online voices, I’m here to submit a calm and mild take — Utah’s students need more access to computer science.
Yes, we can all get behind this because we have brains and also our children have brains, which we care about filling with useful knowledge that will help them get sick jobs and move out of our houses when they are 18, freeing up bedrooms that can then become TV-watching caverns and music recording studios. And if we’re concerned about providing our kids with practical job skills in 2017 and beyond, what’s more useful than computer science?
“Access to K-12 computer science education is a huge issue that states face now because computing occupations are the number one source of all new wages in the US economy and most schools don’t teach high-quality computer science courses,” said Cameron Wilson, COO of Code.org.
Currently, Utah has over 4,000 open computing jobs. As technology continues to grow — which it surely will — this number will rise, especially when you factor in the necessity of computer science in nearly every career field, not just tech-specific ones. As Wilson alluded to, Utah’s current infrastructure is lacking when it comes to educating students in computer science.
SB 190 has been introduced to help address this shortage, a necessary step forward for providing Utah’s children with more access to computer science opportunities.
“We have worked with our education partners to identify a number of gaps in the education computing pathway,” said Tamara Goetz, executive director of the STEM Action Center. “We have created a framework, with those targeted gaps highlighted, that serves as foundation for the proposed efforts in SB 190. These gaps include increased opportunities for K-8 students in coding and computing activities, professional learning opportunities for K-12 teachers, and outreach and engagement activities to expose students to the exciting education and career opportunities in computing.”
To address these gaps, SB 190 hopes to establish a K-16 Computing Pathways Grant program (to be managed by the STEM Action Center) that essentially delivers greater concentration on computer science in schools — more opportunities for students, more opportunities for teachers, and more engagement between students and industry.
A successful pilot program has already been completed — that was the framework Goetz mentioned above — one that saw many of Utah’s companies and rural school districts express interest on the matter of increased tech education. All that’s needed is more funding and support, which is where SB 190 comes in.
“The shortage in computing talent for Utah’s tech community is well know,” said Goetz. “We have been hearing from a number of our companies that they want to reach out beyond the Wasatch Front/I-15 corridor to other Utah communities to help grow and nurture talent. We also are hearing from them that equality and access are key issues for their companies…A majority of the applications for the pilot were from rural school districts. In fact, some of the strongest applications were from rural districts. We want to increase access to resources for rural communities to help them build out computing partnership for their students and Utah companies.”
The bill unanimously passed the Senate and has moved onto the House of Representatives, where it will be subjected to a floor discussion and vote. If it passes through the House, we’ll have another avenue for kids to learn and grow within the world of computer science.
“Every student deserves a chance to learn this subject no matter what career they pursue,” said Wilson. “This legislation will help expand the work that Code.org, the STEM Action Center, and others have done to provide students with more opportunities for computer science education in K-12. If the tech community wants to help fill these jobs with diverse candidates, then advocating for legislation like this and other effort to improve access to K-12 computer science is critical.”