All the way from the board rooms of tech executives in Silicon Valley to the kindergarten class at Voyager Charter School in Charleston, the coding movement is sweeping the country.
So, who is behind the coding movement?
Let's begin with the National Science Foundation, MIT Media Labs, Newt Gingrich, National Governors Association, Amazon, Disney, Tim Cook, American Airlines, DonorsChoose.org, Facebook, Google, Barack Obama, Microsoft, Goldman Sachs, Skype, Mark Zuckerberg, YouTube, John Deere, Jeff Bezos, Discovery Channel, Junior Achievement, Jeb Bush, National Basketball Association, One Laptop Per Child, Marriott, Bill Gates, Expedia, Mark Cuban, Delta Airlines, General Motors, Best Buy, JP Morgan, LinkedIn, Intel, Wells Fargo, Target, Salesforce, Verizon, Walmart, Corey Booker, AT&T, Accenture, Bill Clinton to name just a few. This is to say nothing of just about every national educational organization in the country, 27 Democratic and Republican governors well you get the picture.
OK, you say, but exactly what is the coding movement?
In the narrowest sense, it's about teaching young people to be able to write computer code. In the broadest sense, it's about promoting computer education.
Now, unless they have been living in a cave for the last 20 years or so, most people have figured out that computers are important and understand they are vital for our future. But what most of us who have not been living in a cave generally don't understand is how big a problem we have with the lack of skilled coders and computer education. A recent Washington Post article outlined the problem:
"An estimated 500,000 unfilled U.S. jobs require some level of computer-science understanding, yet three-quarters of the nation's public schools do not offer any computer science courses, often sending companies turning to foreign workers for specialized skills. The federal government isn't doing much to help: Virtually no federal funding is dedicated to enhancing computer science offerings in K-12 schools Computer science education has long been treated as an elective in K-12 schools, a nice-to-have option for the few students who are naturally inclined to seek it out."
The coding movement is not just a top-down movement from businesses, politicians and other well-known folks. As the Washington Post article says:
- There is a growing movement to treat computer science instead as a core subject, such as algebra or biology, to which every student is exposed.
- 90 percent of parents want their children to have access to computer science education at school, and teachers agree. They know that technology opens doors.
- 100,000 teachers have taken matters into their own hands and have already begun teaching computer science.
- Over 100 school districts are rolling out courses, from New York to Chicago to Los Angeles, from Miami to Las Vegas.
- 20 states have passed policies and are now looking to support professional training for new computer science teachers.
Despite all this new momentum and support, we still have a huge problem in the United States (and South Carolina).
- 75 percent of U.S. schools do not offer meaningful computer science courses.
- The current 500,000 open computing jobs are in every sector, from manufacturing to banking, from agriculture to health care, but only 50,000 computer science students graduate a year.
- What is increasingly a basic skill is only available to the lucky few, leaving most students behind, particularly students of color and girls.
- Not only does computer science provide every student foundational knowledge, but it also leads to the highest-paying, fastest-growing jobs in the U.S. economy.
Nationally and worldwide, the best-known organization that has spearheaded the coding movement is Code.org. It was founded in 2013 by twin brothers Hadi and Ali Partovi. Today, Code.org is a fast-growing nonprofit dedicated to expanding access to computer science and increasing participation by women and underrepresented minorities.
Their big annual event is the Hour of Code promotion, which encourages people to participate via a free one-hour online coding lesson that is available in 45 languages. Dozens of presidents, prime ministers and other world leaders have joined in, and Code.org claims it has engaged 10 percent of all the students in the world.
And what of South Carolina?
I have been a keen observer of the coding movement since its early days, but I never really realized its reach and impact until a few months ago when I visited Voyager Charter School in Charleston. There I saw a kindergarten class, yes kindergarten, with the students nearly jumping up and down in excitement as they played with a coding program called Scratch on their individual iPads.
To the kids, they were just playing a game of connecting worms, but what they were really doing was learning the concepts of combining digital elements (the worms) into links of code. I was stunned.
On the statewide level, there is good news and bad news.
The good news is there is beginning to be some (though not near enough) institutional and legislative support for coding and computer education. The Citadel is listed as a regional partner for Code.org. More significantly, a bill was passed by the House in the last legislative session to "create new standards for computer science education in grades 9-12, set up summer training for new teachers in the field and require that every high school in the state offer at least one computer science course."
The bad news is that the bill has only passed the House, and it provided no significant funding to get the computer education courses that are needed actually implemented in schools across the state.
The coding movement demonstrates what everyone knows: Computer literacy and education are essential to the success of our children and our state.
What we don't know is will our national and state political leaders do what is required to ensure our children have this knowledge required for success?
We should all demand that they do.
Phil Noble has a technology firm in Charleston, is founder of World Class Scholars and writes a weekly column for the S.C. Press Association. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and get his columns at www.PhilNoble.com.