Big Tech bosses call for computer science to be taught in all US schools

If we're gonna have robot overlords, might as well learn why they crash


Leaders at hundreds of top US tech companies, universities, and non-profits have called for computer science to be taught to kids in American schools.

The CEOs of Google, Amazon, Apple, Meta, Microsoft, and more signed a letter urging for governors and education leaders to introduce computer science lessons to all K-12 students – those aged five to 18, typically – across the country. Children should be given the opportunity to learn how to code as early as elementary school and all the way through to high school, according to Code.org's CEO Hadi Partovi, who is leading the effort.

Computer science should be a core subject, just like basic biology or algebra

"Every industry is impacted by digital technology, yet not every student has the opportunity to learn how technology works," Partovi said in a statement. "Today, computer science should be a core subject, just like basic biology or algebra. The United States has seen tremendous momentum behind this idea, and today's announcement makes it clear that the time for action is now."

The COVID-19 pandemic temporarily shut down schools and changed the way students learn. Instead of being in classrooms, many tuned into lessons online in front of a computer, laptop, or tablet. Now that they're returning to class, they should use those devices to enroll in computer science classes, it is argued.

Code.org's Chief Academic Officer Pat Yongpradit told The Register younger students don't have to start with learning production programming languages right away, and can begin with something simpler to help them grasp problem solving and understand how computers are instructed to do stuff.

"These days, Java, JavaScript, and Python are some of the most popular languages to teach in schools, but many programming environments, like Code.org, use a visual block-type interface (imagine puzzle pieces or Legos) that sits on top of a typical programming language and makes it easier to engage with professional programming languages," Yongpradit said.

"Students should learn how to design programs related to their passions and interests, how to break down difficult problems into more manageable ones, how to generalize a solution to a variety of situations, and generally how to harness the power of computers to make the world a better place," he added.

"The United States," the open letter added, "leads the world in technology, yet only five per cent of our high school students study computer science. How is this acceptable? We invented the personal computer, the internet, and the smartphone. It is our responsibility to prepare the next generation for the new American Dream."

Learning how to program could help prepare students for a future dominated by computers, and also help them become more mindful consumers in the digital world. If they don't go on to develop software, they may have a better understanding of how these systems work together and how programming-like problems can be solved. Making computer science part of the national curriculum will also introduce the subject to those from underrepresented backgrounds in technology.

"Students in CS classes don't consume technology but create it," Yongpradit told us. "To create tech in a conscious way, students need to understand not just how to create it, but if they should and how it can be designed for all people, for example, folks with disabilities. Students also need to learn about the societal implications of technology, both good and bad."

There are also other wide-reaching benefits for the US extending beyond just boosting the economy, the letter argued. The US reportedly has over 700,000 computing-related jobs a year and only 80,000 computer science graduates. The tech industry has to hire high-skilled immigrants to fill these positions. If more people from the country can code, it'll keep the US more nationally competitive. It could also help the government and businesses deal with increasingly more cyber attacks, boosting national security.

The letter went on: "The undersigned commit our support by collectively creating employment opportunities for computer science students in every city in the USA, and in every sector, from manufacturing to banking, from agriculture to healthcare. Many of us offer internships to help these students find their career pathway. Many of us have funded efforts in CS education, to support underserved communities. But there is only so much industry can do by ourselves."

"Now is the time for action, and the stakes couldn't be higher. Together we urge you, for the sake of our students, our economy, and our country, to work together to update the K-12 curriculum, for every student in every school to have the opportunity to learn computer science," the letter concluded. ®

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