As students in Stone Bridge High School in Ashburn, Va., bask in the privilege of a computer science program, other students in high schools throughout the country can only dream of it. As Stone Bridge High School students enjoy the opportunity to take introductory and advanced placement computer science classes as well as participate in a computer programming club, schools elsewhere are languishing behind on tech.
According to Code.org, an organization that encourages more students to learn programming and coding skills, in 9 out of 10 high schools in the United States, there are no computer science classes offered. In addition, computer science classes do not count towards high school math or science graduation requirements in 33 of 50 states. As a result, there is a growing concern among educators and industry professionals who worry there will not be enough educated workers to fill the ballooning number of computer science jobs.
For instance, there will be 1.4 million new computer science jobs, but only 400,000 computer science students by 2020 in reference to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. According to Code.org, the number of computer science jobs is growing at a pace two times the national average for job growth. It’s the reason companies like Microsoft have implemented programs to help engage more students in computer science at a younger age. The company’s Technology Education and Literacy in Schools program (TEALS) pairs 70 schools in 12 states with nearly 300 professional software engineers who volunteer to help start computer science programs or further develop existing programs.
“TEALS came to us through one of our computer science engineers who…had a particular passion around the need to help feed the future pipeline of computer science engineers,” says Lori Harnick, Microsoft’s general manager for citizenship and public affairs. “He saw that young people, particularly high school students, don’t always have access in schools. So he decided on his own that he would stop by his neighborhood school and volunteer to teach alongside the teacher.”
According to Allie Bidwell of U.S. News, the efforts reached Microsoft as more employees began volunteering. TEALS volunteers were in 13 schools, reaching more than 800 students by the 2011-12 school year. This year, more than 3,000 students are in computer science classes with TEALS volunteers, both from Microsoft and other companies in the industry such as Amazon, Dell, Google and HP.
“In recent years we have seen a growing need and demand for computer science professionals. Of course we get those typically out of college, or graduate engineering programs,” Harnick says. “But we’ve started to recognize that that spark starts much earlier. If you haven’t been exposed to computer science until university, it probably won’t be a field you choose to pursue.”
Dan Kasun, a TEALS volunteer, said the technical expertise TEALS volunteers can offer is key, because many teachers don’t have a background in the field, it’s also important for students to see that computer science fields can lead to real careers outside of the tech sector. He added that skills students develop while learning computer science can help them find careers not only in information technology and software engineering, but also in games and digital application development, data analytics and cyber security.