I believe that technology is now a routine part of our lives and I have been thinking lately about how much effort we should spend educating young students about computers. I read an article that highlighted a push to make computer science mandatory in German schools. My question is, has technology become so commonplace that we treat it like running water and electricity, or can it still provide a competitive advantage for a community or a nation?
Keeping up on Technology
One of the concerns of German lawmakers, which is shared by officials from other countries, is that their students will fall behind and not be able to fill future technology jobs. According to the head of German digital industry group Bitkom:
“IT skills are now as important as the basics. Digitisation determines our everyday lives more and more, for leisure time as well as for work. Schools must teach about media literacy beyond the classroom and give students a firm grasp of IT technologies.”
Suddenly, the tech kids are the cool ones in school. This follows the recent emphasis in schools in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). The theory is that partly because of the proliferation of technology, the best and most advanced jobs will go to those who are trained in those areas.
In a blog post last year I highlighted the organization Code.org that believes that “every student in every school should have the opportunity to learn computer science.” They are working to increase access to computer curriculum, particularly for women and students of color. Just as the lawmakers in Germany are advocating, Code.org believes that computer science should be part of core curriculum in schools alongside biology, algebra, and chemistry. While I agree that computer science is important as part of a STEM curriculum, I wonder which classes we should drop to make room for it?
A recent PBS article highlighted a similar push to introduce coding courses in schools in Australia. Computer science curriculum, according to the article, will replace geography and history courses. I am sure that the change will generate a lot of debate around the virtues of a classic education versus a more modern education. It leaves the door open for ongoing conversations around curriculum mix and what students actually need to succeed in the future.
To circle back to my original question, is it necessary to add specific computer science curriculum to schools? Or has technology become so pervasive that everyone knows how to use it, but only a few need to be able to create new and unique applications? In the same vein, should we also introduce mandatory physics courses as well to better understand the underlying hardware? Finally, which courses would you replace? As you look back on your education and career, which classes have shaped you the most and why? Let me know your thoughts.
Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.