By: Katelyn Bailey
With our whole world fueled by technological innovation, one would think people would be all over the idea of seeking a degree where all the money and benefits are, and that field is computer science. Last year however only about 43,000 students graduated with a degree in Computer Science to fill the nearly 507,000 computer science jobs available right now according to code.org. So the question is why aren’t students being drawn towards a field with such a high demand? The problem has its roots in our public school system, to achieve a degree in computer science students must take extensive math and science courses. Unfortunately, according to nms.org, only 44% of high school students are ready for college-level math and only 36% are ready for college-level science, which causes a lot of children to become discouraged from these fields before they even graduate from high school or drop out of them after a single semester due to being overwhelmed. According to the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) in 2012 the US was ranked 27 out of 34 countries in math and science.
How do we get more students interested in computer science while improving their skills in math and science? It starts with children. Factsforlifeglobal.org states that from infancy to the age of 8 is considered the most important learning stage. This is the age children need to start being exposed to STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. This is also a great age to use STEM as a fun experience and to intrigue young minds, with hopes of keeping them interested as they grow up. Recently apps such as “Scratch” and toys such as the “Code-a-Pillar” by Fisher Price and Wonder Workshop’s “Dash Robot” have been developed to keep those growing brains engaged in the fundamentals of problem solving and critical thinking.
To keep students involved schools must make STEM activities more available to their students. Even though computer science is in very high demand and considered the way of the future it is, surprisingly, only taught in a minority of schools in America. According to Exploring Computer Science.org, Secondary school’s computer science courses have dropped by 17% since 2005. This means there are children out there who may have a special talent for STEM related fields but aren’t given the opportunity to develop the related skills, and thus end up losing interest in them for good.
Locally Tate High School took this into consideration and it is one of the only high schools in the Pensacola area to provide a computer programming and game design program for students. When asking Tate High School students currently enrolled in the program what they thought about computer science classes in lower grade levels they also had some strong feelings towards the idea.
Levi Shaffer, a junior at Tate, said he had been interested in working with computers since middle school, but it wasn’t until 9th grade when he fully got involved with coding through the academy that he truly realized his skill. Levi also said “I believe earlier involvement in coding will better kids life skills in keyboarding, using Microsoft products, and developing problem solving skills. Which are really important nowadays.” He said that he had felt like he had learned a lot through these computer courses as well and hopes to major in a computer field in college.
Hayden Aiken, who is finishing his final year at Tate, said he felt the classes “helped challenge and extend his mind and abilities.” Aiken also said he believed the courses helped with critical thinking skills because when looking for an error in a code you have written you really have to go through a lot of fast thinking to find what’s wrong so you can move on. Although he isn’t looking to major in a computer based field leaning towards the music field instead, he said he did feel that the skills he learned through coding would help him there as well..
Juniors Virginia Vaughan and Izzy Durazo are among the few girls in the largely male dominated academy. Virginia said she had been interested in computer science since she was 12, she would like to major in a computer based field and hopes to see more girls become interested in the courses the gaming academy has to offer. Izzy has been interested in computer work around since she was around 8 years old and believes that by teaching courses like game design and programming throughout children’s lives they would develop these skills much more naturally. She also wants to see more girls exploring an interest in this field. Izzy said it “felt intimidating at first to be in a class full of guys.” The girls said throughout their time in the academy the number of girls in the class had grown from around 2 to about 5 girls. “When I talk to girls who aren’t in the academy about what we do in the academy they sound really bored with it and have no idea what I’m talking about,” Izzy said. She hopes that in the future this will change.
Mr. Thomas Maher, the instructor of the gaming academy, truly inspires his students and helps them reach their full potential. Students like these are the future of technological innovation and they aren’t possible without classes that instill and encourage computer skills early coupled with teachers who are able to motivate those learning them. These classes aren’t just interesting electives, they’re essential to the 21st century and beyond. Children being born into today’s rapidly advancing age of technology will need these skills to make it as a part of this modern world. They will be the next creators and inventors, the Bill Gates and Steve Jobs of the next generation. STEM and computer science are the first step to a greater tomorrow, so why not give our children the chance of learning today?