At a time when the public and private sectors are struggling to create jobs, the technology sector is struggling to fill innumerable open positions. Jobs in computing fields are among the highest paying and fastest growing, and yet our current workforce is not equipped to fill them. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that by 2020, there will be 1.4 million new computer science jobs, but only 400,000 computer science students.
It’s time our education system prioritizes the skills these jobs demand in a scalable way.
At Girls Who Code and Urban Assembly, we’ve dedicated our missions to addressing these gaps in the market by preparing the next generation with the skills they’ll need to pursue 21st century opportunities. Thus far, we’re making great strides. Girls Who Code will have taught computer science to more than 10,000 girls by the end of 2015 between our Summer Immersion and Clubs programs. The Urban Assembly is a leader in creating next-generation career and technical education schools that introduce students to the most in-demand skills in the workforce. This year, for example, The Urban Assembly opened the Maker Academy in New York City, to steep students in coding, 3D printing and other skills that will prepare them for computer science programs and jobs. These are important steps. But it's simply not efficient to think we can address this problem school-by-school, program-by-program.
One easy yet impactful way our school systems have historically addressed these challenges is through language acquisition. Back in the 1990s, when we began to see major economic, political and cultural shifts in the global marketplace, schools across the country began expanding their Japanese language offerings. In the 2000s, Mandarin has become the language of choice for students seeking a leg up in the job market. Imagine how much skill building our schools could achieve if the state allowed coding to fulfill the language requirement.
For starters, it makes good educational sense. Coding builds on the problem solving and critical think skills inherent in the new the Common Core state standards. It requires students to take a challenge, break it down into parts, understand the relationships between those parts, pose a solution, and then test it to see if it works. Coding makes problem solving visible. It also prepares students for the computer science AP exam that would allow them to enter college with credits in a STEM field.
Allowing coding to fulfill the language requirement would also accomplish several other important goals. It would raise awareness among many more families—and their children—about the importance of computer science skills for long-term success; it would expand coding to many more students throughout the New York City school system; and it would create demand for more teachers to learn these skills and become certified in this language. Unless there is demand, after all, it's hard to increase supply. For our students, learning those skills today translates into a pathway to the jobs and the middle class of tomorrow.
Reshma Saujani is founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, a national nonprofit organization working to close the gender gap in the technology and engineering sectors.
Richard Kahan is founder and CEO of Urban Assembly, a network of 21 small high schools in New York City.
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