Why it’s a shame that computer science courses aren’t mandatory

December 12, 2013

A student learns coding lessons as part of “Hour of Code.” We need more scenes like this. (Associated Press)

Millions of students will learn some lessons in computer coding this week as part of “Hour of Code,” a national campaign offering free tutorials. The initiative is supported by President Obama, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and Bill Gates. “Hour of Code” is a great program, but what we really need is semesters of code. Here’s why computer science courses should be mandatory for all young people.

Computer science degrees funnel graduates toward fast growing occupations.

Plenty of stories have talked about a “lost generation,” young people who live at home and struggle to find work. There are jobs out there, but they aren’t qualified. The Bureau of Labor estimates that America’s economy is adding 140,000 computing jobs a year. Tech companies are struggling to find qualified labor. A 2012 Microsoft report found there are twice as many job openings in computing as college students graduating with computer science degrees.

Computer science is one of the highest paying college majors

There’s lots of talk about the struggles of the middle class, and the increasing wealth of the top 1 percent. More income balance has merits. An easy way to do this is to expose more children to computer programming skills, which have created incredible wealth for many.

Check out CareerBuilder.com’s look at the fastest growing occupations from 2013 to 2017. Three of the four highest paying positions on the list are computer systems analyst, network and computer systems administrator and software developer. Each field is expected to grow by at least 8 percent a year. Yet many states classify computer science as an elective, instead of a math or science course.

“In California, computer science has the same classification as a class on horseshoe making,” Hadi Partovi, the man behind “Hours of Code,” told The Wall Street Journal. That’s tragic. Students with the potential to be the next Gates or Zuckerberg aren’t having their potential developed, because we don’t value computing skills.

Coding is the new literacy.

Too often we limit our definition of literacy to the ability to read physical books and write on physical surfaces. Now we live in an age where cursive is dying, and typing is considered essential. Being able to navigate a digital device, whether it is an iPad or a PC, is a key to being productive. We shouldn’t be raising a generation that will one day struggle to set the clock on the future’s equivalent of the VCR.

The best companies to work for are tech companies.

According to Glass Door, 22 of the 50 best companies to work for are tech companies. We should be looking for ways to make more Americans strong job candidates for these company’s open positions. Coding is a way to get in.

Still not convinced? Watch this video.

Related: Week-long ‘Hour of Code’ campaign lures millions of U.S. students to computer coding

Matt McFarland is the editor of Innovations. He's always looking for the next big thing. You can find him on Twitter and Facebook.
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Dominic Basulto | December 12, 2013