The importance of teaching computer science
Computing pervades almost all industries and organizational processes. Regardless of their chosen career path, it’s probable that learners will need to draw upon computer science skills and possess some understanding of computer science. In short, computer science is a needed fundamental skill.
The economic case for CS in the curriculum
CS is fundamental to technology skills, and countries/regions with more workers with these skills will have higher economic growth through better productivity. Currently, education generally can't meet the growing demand for people with tech skills, and this shortage can stifle growth.
Productivity and growth
Productivity is a key factor in economic growth and there's a commonly held view that countries with more workers with technology skills will attain higher economic growth through better productivity. Research by Brookings using Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) data supports the view that countries with a higher share of graduates from an ICT field tend to have higher rates of per capita GDP. Conversely, lack of tech skills can restrain growth.
Demand for CS skills from employers
According to analysis by LinkedIn and Microsoft, 149 million more digital jobs will be created by 2025, in fields such as privacy, data analysis, cybersecurity, and AI. These jobs require significant knowledge of CS. By 2030, the global shortage of tech workers will represent $8.5 trillion in lost annual revenue, according to management consulting firm Korn Ferry, cited by the International Monetary Fund.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic all business sectors have shifted to more digital delivery with huge consequence on required job skills. As technology increasingly drives the world’s economy, governments see economic opportunities associated with creating stronger local CS-based industries which in turn drives demand for people with CS skills. The demand for CS skills doesn’t just apply to technology jobs, but to the increasing number of occupations that require computing skills in addition to traditional skills. CS education provides the skills needed by employers and ensures that students are competitive and adaptable in rapidly changing labor markets.
Currently, education generally can't meet the growing demand for people with CS skills. In October 2022, only 33% of technology jobs worldwide were filled by skilled workers. In a global survey by Capgemini and LinkedIn, half of the organizations surveyed said the digital divide is widening and that they lost competitive advantage due to talent shortages.
Technology skills are valuable to individuals
With these talent shortages, it’s not surprising that there's above-average wages and faster wage growth in CS relative to the other fields.
For individuals, it pays to acquire technology skills. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) cited by Coursera, reports the median annual salary of computer scientists as $131,490 with a range of $74,210 to $208,000. According to Glassdoor, the average base salary for a computer scientist in the US is $107,396, with a range of $88,000 to $192,000. These salaries are significantly above the national average annual salary of $54,132.
The equality case for CS in the curriculum
Empirical studies show that technological skills reduce inequalities between groups, and universal access to CS education can achieve this in several ways. For example, CS education has been shown to increase college enrollment rates. CS skills, such as problem-solving and planning, are broadly transferable making CS a subject that drives success in other subjects. Other benefits include enabling people with lower access to technological resources the opportunity to catch up and adapt.
Like languages, math, music, and chess, learning CS can help students learn other subjects. CS skills, such as problem-solving and planning, are broadly transferable. Computer programming–a key part of CS–has been shown to improve students' creativity, problem solving, math, and reasoning skills. In other words, CS helps students level-up across other subjects because it teaches them how to think.
Increased college enrollment rates
A 2020 study examined the effects CS courses on students’ academic careers in the United States and found a positive and significant effect on increasing the likelihood of enrolling in college. Two districts on opposite sides of the country/region involved in the study successfully increased college enrollment by 24% to 34%.
CS is also valued by universities across a wide range of disciplines. CS can be useful for many degree courses including biology, chemistry, economics, engineering, geology, mathematics, materials science, medicine, physics, psychology, and sociology. At the University of California, CS is considered foundational background for degrees from Physics to Cognitive Science to Business Information Management.
Other benefits include enabling people with lower access to technological resources the opportunity to catch up with others who have higher levels of access. In other words, people with limited access to technology by any other means, should be able to access technology at school as part of the school’s CS provision.
The empowerment case for CS in the curriculum
Our lives now depend on computers in many ways, but most people are merely passive consumers of computing, rather than active creators who understand how computing works. The ubiquity of computing is a double-edged sword. It delivers significant benefits and can drive inclusion, but it also has negative consequences ranging from polarization to widespread distrust to the erosion of democracy. So, there’s a real need for everyone to understand how the computing they use works not just for them but how it can work against them too.
As students enter adult life and access online services and participate in the digital world, those without digital skills will be disadvantaged against those who possess them. CS education is a driver of equal opportunities in life as a well as work. All students need the skills, knowledge, and understanding of computing that helps them take a full and active part in social, cultural, economic, civic, and intellectual life now and in the future.
At the least, all students need to be able to
- Stay safe online
- Secure their devices from cybercrime
- Understand their rights to privacy
- Make and share meaning in different modes and formats
- Create, collaborate, and communicate effectively
- Select the right technology tools for what they need to do
Active participation vs. passive consumption
Students need to be able to critically engage with technology, rather than passively use what is given to them. A practical understanding of computation can explain why crypto currencies contribute to global warming. Practical learning activities focused on cloud computing enable students to realize where their data comes from and goes to. A practical understanding of how robots work leads to an understanding of how the goods and services they use are built and delivered. The goal of active participation is both to make learning productive and relevant, but also to enable students to make informed sustainable decisions rather than just have technology ‘done to them’ by others.
Both humanity and the world of technology stands at an inflection point. A global pandemic, war in Europe, and climate change are creating increasingly complex problems. Even when created with positive intentions, technological advancement can amplify existing problems. Technology that takes advantage of human vulnerabilities—like confirmation bias, cognitive limits, how our dopamine systems work, or our need for social validation—undermines citizenship and drives social polarization.
Creating the conditions to tackle our increasingly complex problems means replacing many old technology paradigms with new humane and sustainable ones. At the least, all students should be empowered to critically judge the validity, accuracy, and appropriateness of information. They should also build the skills needed to identify and recreate the dysfunctional aspects of the digital world, so it better serves humanity.
Additionally, today's parents express greater interest in technology integration in schools. According to a Gallup poll published in September of 2020, 69% of parents and guardians in the United States say it’s important or very important for their child to learn computer science. Parents and guardians expect schools to integrate these concepts into their children's curriculum.
In the end, learners need to develop computational thinking as part of a "repertoire of thinking abilities." Microsoft Research's Simon Peyton Jones, one of the architects of England's National Computing Curriculum, compares learning computer science principles in primary school to learning about science at a young age. Schools don’t teach young learners about biology because they’re hoping for all learners to become biologists later in life. Rather, learners learn biology, and other subjects, so that they have a better understanding of the world around them.
- What are some events that have occurred in the last year that have accelerated your learners’ need for computer science education?