Programming Is Overlooked In High Schools, And That Needs To Change

Most smaller high schools, including the one I went to, have little to offer in the way of computer science and programming. The closest thing to programming my high school offered was an introduction to HTML. Why is this, and how can we fix education so there is a greater emphasis on computer science?

Before we begin to discuss the issues with high schools and programming, I’d like to know how many of you took (or were offered) a programming course in high school. And if there are circumstances surrounding your answer (for instance, if you were in high school in the 80’s or something like that) explain that in the comments section!

 

I’m excited to see how this poll turns out! The more data we can collect, the better the results. If you share this article with your friends, can get a better idea of the availability of programming courses in high school.

Now, onto:

The Problem

When I was in high school, just a couple years ago, I wanted to learn programming. Sure, I had tried to use free online resources to learn to code on my own, but I wanted the structure of a school course.

So when the next year rolled around, I tried to take a programming class. I was torn when I found out that my school only offered to teach HTML. To make matters worse, it was a split course. During the first half of the year, we learned how to use PowerPoint, and the second half we learned HTML.

I signed up for it anyway, had a good time, and learned a few things. But I am still disappointed that there were no opportunities to get into computer science before college. At least, no formal opportunities. There are a few good online resources, like Codecademy, but in my experience, structured, formal courses are better than these free resources.

The Solution

Public education needs to realize that computer science is one of the most important fields of the future. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of software developer jobs will grow from 1,114,000 in 2014 to about 1,303,380.

Software Developer Growth - BLS

That’s a lot of growth!

As you can see from the graphic, the growth across all fields is projected to be only 7%, while the growth of jobs as a software developer is expected to be 17%! In other words, computer science is a field our high schools should be encouraging students to explore!

In my high school, we had to take:

  • 4 years of English
  • 3 years of Math
  • 3 years of Science
  • 3 years of History
  • 2 years of Foreign Language

And then there were various electives, like band, choir, and a few rudimentary computer courses primarily covering Microsoft’s Office Suite. But about half the electives available were sports, including football, basketball, baseball, softball, track, golf, and weightlifting. No offense to the sporty readers, but these don’t provide a solid career path.* So why all the emphasis on sports?

I acknowledge that we need to exercise, but this is past the point of staying healthy and fit. I think it’s fine to keep offering the variety of sports, but only if we start seeing a better balance and addition of solid computer science courses. It doesn’t even have to be in-depth, difficult C++ or anything, just an overview of Javascript or something. The important thing is the option to learn code and coding concepts through public education.

Another option is getting schools to partner with companies to provide a learning service at no charge to the students.  Microsoft has a partnership service called DreamSpark that is used by the University of Oklahoma, and I think it would be very cool to see opportunities like that used in high schools.

What do you think? If you have an opinion on the matter, leave a comment with your thoughts about introducing our teenagers to programming in school.  I look forward to hearing about the options you had in high school, or what you think we can do to fix the lack of programming in public education!

Happy Programming!

* This may get a bit of criticism, because there are people who make a steady living doing things like sports medicine. Here, I was specifically referring to those attempting to make a solid career out of playing the sport itself. Once you’re playing the sport professionally, you can make a lot of money, but it is very hard to become a professional athlete.

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2 thoughts on “Programming Is Overlooked In High Schools, And That Needs To Change

  1. My first exposure to programming was in 1965 – in college. We used a card punch… the computer was in a room on campus. All homework (small programs) were punched on cards and submitted at the counter. Later in life (1994) I learned Visual Basic for DOS and then Visual Basic for Windows. I learned those on my own with zero help from anyone… just the manual. But I was completely stunned with the quality of software that I could create with Visual Basic.

    I believe that programming can begin in grade 8 with students writing tiny programs that do something really cool “Shop” was taught in grade 8. Later (in Oklahoma), many schools offered a technology course in grade 8 (a replacement for shop class). In fact, your grandfather taught the tech course and they had over 20 “stations” where students were exposed to everything from electricity to CAD, to video recording and robotics. So a programming course would fit right into a class like that.

    But if you give students a basic exposure… with a simple programming language and a few cool tasks (create a sign-in system for visitors to your home, for example), students who are inspired will use those tools to create all sorts of programs that only they can imagine.

    The key (in my opinion) is to show students that they can create the Hello World program in the first hour. And make the software available (on their own computers) but also connect their projects, (via a classroom website) so that they can see what each other is doing and learn from each other.

    I am old… and not as sharp as I once was. But I look forward to signing up for a programming class on a campus in the near future. I believe that a structured class… with interaction with other students… can spark our imagination and allow us to demonstrate our creativity.

    Like

    • Thanks for your input, Bob! I always enjoy your stories, and your opinion on how to get students interested in programming is a great idea. Also, the fact that you taught yourself Visual Basic and that you plan to keep learning is very inspiring. Thanks for leaving your thoughts!

      Like

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