CSforAll — E plus D Podcast

[This is the transcript from my podcast on February 1, 2016.]

A Grand Vision

Many of you heard the news on Saturday: President Obama made it official — computer science will now be a part built into US curriculum. His logic, we’ll listen to him say it:

President Obama’s comments:
“As I said in my State of the Union address, we live in a time of extraordinary change — change that’s affecting the way we live and the way we work. New technology replaces any job where work can be automated. Workers need more skills to get ahead. These changes aren’t new, and they’re only going to accelerate. So the question we have to ask ourselves is, ‘How can we make sure everyone has a fair shot at success in this new economy?’ The answer to that question starts with education. That’s why my Administration has encouraged states to raise standards.”

As long as the education system can faithfully implement CSforAll, this is a big deal. Imagine that 50+ million students, 18 years from now, will all know how to code and program devices from apps, programs, software, and computers (inside your laptops and phones to the items around us). Shoot, like the president said, we live in a time of extraordinary change, so in 18 years, who knows what they will program. This is big because it poses incredible opportunity.

Means to an End?

But, it could have some unintentional, yet tremendously bad, side effects. One big concern is that students will learn how to code only for the sake of coding (as the end), but we should incorporate coding into curriculum so that students can apply it when they take on huge, real-world challenges and problems. Remember, we should instill in students the ability to apply engineering principles and design thinking methods. With this in mind, coding should be a means to a bigger end. Obama backs up that idea too, lightly, when he says,

President Obama’s comments cont’d:
“Now we have to make sure all our kids are equipped for the jobs of the future — which means not just being able to work with computers, but developing the analytical and coding skills to power our innovation economy…workers of all kinds need to be able to figure out how to break a big problem into smaller pieces and identify the right steps to solve it.”

This statement from the president is more important than just saying kids will start coding. That’s great, but now, we have to ensure that all teachers are aware of the power of coding, and incorporate that into how students can solve problems. I have faith in many of our teachers, but I would imagine that this can be far enough of a stretch that many teachers won’t be comfortable enough or effective enough to support students effectively, and they’ll leave or waste time ineffectively implementing this new effort. I do not want to see that, so it’s great to hear that there will be billions of dollars behind CSforAll. I just want to know how that money will be applied across all fifty states.

Side Effects

So, there are side effects here, too. There is going to be extra strain on administrative entities to get sufficient resources, establish and maintain the right systems, and find ways to train teachers so they can be effective. They’ll have to measure the success of their efforts (and their teachers’), too. We need to work together as a collective of educators and administrators to get this rolled out effectively because the potential upside is tremendous. It could create billions of new wealth, break the chain of poverty for many families, and solve many pressing problems big and small for our country. If CSforAll isn’t implemented well, the outcomes could be neutral to negative. Imagine that CSforAll doesn’t go well for those in areas of need and areas of poverty — that would further create a divide in wealth between socioeconomic classes. Moreover, this could accelerate faster in school districts where they already have such programs and such capacities, leaving those that struggle or do not have the infrastructure in the dust. While CSforAll aims to lift all students, if not implemented well, it could reinforce the systemic problems in education that already exist.

Conclusion

Let’s tie this all together: what does the President’s announcement mean for education? There is definite upside to the CSforAll initiative. It could mean a huge acceleration for the US and the world for that matter. But, there are clear implementation issues from government, school district, and educator level that we need to address. We all need to work together, as educator and administrators, as parents and community members, to ensure that students learn more than just how to code. We need to ensure schools teach coding as a means to adopt engineering principles and apply design thinking methods to solve relevant, real-world problems. We need our students to be leaders today, because the world can’t wait. — TR

Thanks for reading. If you liked it, feel free to let me know in the comments. If you didn’t or if I missed something, let me know that, too. You can also subscribe here on Medium, to my blog, and to my podcast.