D'Arcy from Winnipeg
Solution Architecture, Business & Entrepreneurship, Microsoft, and Adoption

High Schools Get Failing Grade in Computer Science

Tuesday, February 26, 2013 10:28 PM


“Everybody in this country should learn how to program a computer…because it teaches you how to think.” – Steve Jobs

That’s the starting frame of a fantastic short vid introducing the code.org website. Check out the video below:

There’s been a lot of drum beating around the lack of STEM enrollment (that’s Science-Technology-Engineering-Mathematics) at universities and colleges. Computer programming is part of that, and it’s definitely still an issue. As the video shows, we’re heading to a huge gap in available professionals to fill over 1 million programming jobs (and that’s just the US, never mind other countries like Canada).

But why is this? What is stifling interesting in STEM professions? Before we look at the post-secondary level, we need to take a step back at the high school, middle school, and elementary schools. What we find is very disturbing.

I live in Winnipeg, in an area called St. James. We have a number of high schools in our area’s division, including my old high school. Below are the key focuses from each of those high school’s “computer” classes.

John Taylor

John Taylor lists an “Information and Communication Technology Program”, but visiting their site we see its actually a “Information Technology and Graphic Design” program. Looking through the topics, its obvious this is entirely a graphic design program (t-shirt design?!)! It’s also very much focused on the Apple line of products (Web development with iWeb? How about HTML and Javascript instead of a tool?). No programming whatsoever here – even if its listed as part of IT15F, I doubt it’s anything of substance.

John Taylors Technology Program Grade: F

Westwood Collegiate

Westwood lists Technology Education as an option for areas of study students can take on. Unfortunately, they don’t list what their programs & courses are beyond that. Also, that page hasn’t been updated since 2010.

Westwood Technology Program Grade: Incomplete

St. James Collegiate (Academy of Science & Technology)

This school has “Academy of Science & Technology” in its name! There *has* to be programming here! Oddly, they do everything but! Look at their ICT list of courses and the closest you get to programming is their Web Design course which includes JavaScript. Look at their ITC course, and its all about electrical engineering, CAD/CAM, graphic design (what?), and other technologies that are thrown together in some sort of business/manufacturing project.

Alas, no programming. At the “Academy of Science & Technology”.

St. James Collegiate Technology Program Grade: D

Sturgeon Heights

First up under Sturgeon’s “Technical Vocational” section, Computer Applications 20S. Unfortunately, more of the same – graphic design, Flash, animation. Then I see this for one of the assignments.

You are to create a Childrens Story (or Re-Create) using animation features of PowerPoint

You’re kidding me.

Things are looking very bleak early on here at my old high school, but there’s also an “Interactive Technology” area. Looking through the courses, we finally hit gold! Mr. Wachs’ 20S (grade 10) Computer Science class…

You will be introduced to the discipline of programming through introductory software like Scratch and/or Alice. Once established, formal programming instruction will take place starting in the C Sharp (C#)  programming language. If time permits, instruction will possibly look at languages like Java, C++, or Flash’s ActionScript. Students will learn important concepts like variables, conditional statements, loops, and methods (functions) . Students will work on practical programming problems, games, and have practical assignments. The course will end with students working on a major project of their own choosing.

And then in the grade 11 and 12 computer science courses go on to mention object orientation, methods, arrays, classes…this is actually a computer science program!

Sturgeon Heights Technology Program Grade: A- (because I can’t ignore that PowerPoint thing)

But Things Are Still Grim…

So out of 4 high schools, only 1 actually offers a true computer science course. Only one teaches programming languages and concepts; and let me point out, only one teacher is doing this. Extrapolate this across Canada, across North America, and its easy to see why computer science isn’t on the radar of most students.

This is a problem folks. This isn’t a trend we want to continue. We need to push our schools to offer computer technology courses throughout elementary, junior high, and high school. We need to hold our teachers to a higher standard, that if they claim to teach technology they teach relevant, meaningful technology topics. And as parents, we need to encourage our kids to investigate computer science.

Ensuring our schools are ready to support us in that endeavor goes a long way though.




Feedback

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Wow that is a grim assessment.

When I hear friends talk about their kids studying computers in school, I often wonder what are they learning. Too often, it seems to focus on how to use Office or how to search the Internet. Good skills, but so much more is needed.

There was a time when teens would join their parents at electronic hobby meetings and learn about computers there and pass on the excitement that way.

When I attend or speak at local user groups, it is rare for there to be college students let alone high school students in attendance.

I recently served on an advisory committee with my alma matter about their curriculum. I recommend that they encourage students to get involve in local user groups. Partnerships could be amazing in both directions. 2/27/2013 7:20 AM | Nick Harrison

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