Wednesday, October 24, 2012


Minnesotans like to think of our children as above average.  And we pride ourselves on our high tech industry and general high techi-ness.   So you’d guess Minnesota would be a leader in educating our children in technology, specifically in computing and computer science.

In fact, Minnesota ranks near bottom – 47th out of the 50 states.  A 2010 report from the professional society ACM, the Association of Computing Machinery, (excerpted here)  gives Minnesota a score of 9 out of 100.    We are failing to educate our children about computing and computer science.

This matters, because programs control significant parts of the world we live in.  If you understand basic concepts of coding, this world is comprehensible, adaptable, manageable.   If you don’t, it’s all gibberish, or magic.

Today’s programmers don’t just crunch numbers, they move robots, manufacture prototypes, build web sites and phone apps, tell stories and connect people across the planet.  Computer professions are expanding – both in traditional fields like information storage and access, and in these new areas of digital media and digital control.

We are not growing nearly enough computer professionals, barely a quarter of what’s needed to meet the current job vacancies.  The National Center for Women in Information Technology (NCWIT) supplies excellent statistics, including that only 29% of the 1.4 million new jobs in computing science that will become available between 2008 and 2018 can be filled by the current pipeline of computer bachelor’s degrees.  Even if you include associate and masters degrees, it barely passes 60%.

Another critical issue is that the industry and the pipeline are not nearly diverse enough.  As our nation’s demographics change – “white” males are now less than 25% of the babies born in America – we must attract both traditional and non-traditional students into Information Technology fields.   We need a diverse workforce because diversity of mind and experience are the best path to creative, collaborative problem solving.  And there are plenty of problems to solve in the world!

So who will code the future?  And what are we doing now to prepare them?  Alas, not enough.  Even in 2012, very few kids learn to code in school, though there are organizations, including Computing in the Core and Computer Science Education Week and CSTA  that are trying to change that.

Fortunately there is a growing “ecosystem” of innovative organizations creating out-of-school experiences that inspire kids from all walks of life and help build the next generation of computer professionalsThese deserve your attention, and your support. Two of my favorites are Black Girls Code and Mouse.

Black Girls Code  is a non-profit organization founded last year by Kimberly Bryant, dedicated to teaching girls ages 7-16 from underrepresented communities about computer programming and digital technology.  They’ve completed a hugely successful “Summer of Code” hosting classes across the country.  Here’s a great blog posted in Scientific American about their Summer of Code project.

Mouse  is an innovative youth development organization based in New York City that empowers underserved students to provide technology support and leadership in their schools, supporting their academic and career success.  Mouse has been in operation for over 15 years, has 439 active Mouse Squads nation-wide and has served over 18,000 young people.

There are many other projects, nationally and internationally, focusing on these issues:
  • A new organization  is doing a terrific job of raising the visibility of closing the gender gap in the computing profession.   Their PR launch last week touted articles by the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, Time and many more, plus financial support from Google, E-Bay, General Electric and Twitter.    Their first 8 week class for 20 girls met this summer.
  • Coder Dojo is a global volunteer collaboration based in Ireland providing free and open learning to young people, especially in programming technology.
  • For a peek at some innovative possibilities of in-depth engagement, check out the projects funded by The Hive, the Digital Media Learning Fund of the New York Community Fund.
Across the country and beyond, kids are programming robots, creating smart phone apps, producing animation,  inventing video games, mastering digitally controlled manufacturing and more.  When kids learn to code, they move beyond just USING technology, to making, building, producing.  A non-profit called Code Now says it best:

“Coding is the new literacy. It gives individuals the power to innovate and create. We need to empower our youth – especially those from underrepresented communities – to be the next great technology pioneers. “


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