High school figures show computer revolution is running out of steam
Half of high schools do not offer a single course in computer science, a sign that the digital skills revolution is running out of steam.
And in 37 states, less than one in 20 high school students is enrolled in basic computer science.
The numbers represent a setback for the drive to equip students with digital skills – including the ability to code – in anticipation of the growing need for a more tech-savvy workforce.
And it comes after the news that the number of students taking computer subjects in England actually declined following the introduction of a computer programming program hailed at the time as a world first.
According to a report released today by a consortium of industry organizations, teachers, and nonprofits, only 51% of U.S. high schools offer computer classes.
While this figure is a big improvement from 35% three years ago and up from 47% last year despite disruption to schools caused by the Covid pandemic- 19, this is a huge shortfall compared to the ambition to give every student the opportunity to learn to code.
The report also found significant differences in access to computer education between different groups.
Rural schools, urban schools, and schools with a high proportion of economically disadvantaged students are less likely to offer computer classes, and black / African American, Hispanic / Latino / Latin / Latinx students and students Native Americans and Alaskans were less likely to attend a school that offered it.
“It’s time for policymakers, industry leaders and stakeholders to advocate for policies that make IT a fundamental part of the education system,” said Dr Katie Hendrickson, President of Code.org Advocacy Coalition and co-author of the report.
By following the report’s recommendations, “we can work to close the gaps in access and participation and hope for a world where every child around the world has access to computers,” she added.
This year, Illinois, Missisippi and Oklahoma joined the ranks of states requiring all schools to offer computer classes, bringing the total to 23, while three states – Arkansas, Carolina of the South and Nevada – have adopted a requirement for a high school diploma in computer science.
But, despite this, actual participation in computer courses remains low. Participation data for 37 states shows that only 4.7% of students were enrolled in basic computer science.
Male students are more likely to pursue computer science through high school. While female students make up almost half (49%) of elementary computer science students, this figure drops to 44% in middle schools and only 31% in high school.
But states have made progress towards adopting nine policies aimed at making computers part of the curriculum, according to the report produced by the Code.org Advocacy Coalition, which brings together more than 70 industry, nonprofit and Advocacy, Computer Science Teachers. Association and the Expanding Computing Education Pathways Alliance, which aims to increase the number and diversity of graduate students in computer science.
These nine policies include setting standards for computer science education, funding teacher training in computer science, and providing computer science credit to meet a basic graduation requirement.
Six states have now adopted all nine policies: Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Indiana, Maryland, and Nevada, and all 50 states, plus DC, now allow computing to count towards obtaining of a diploma.
But expanding access to computers in schools does not in itself guarantee that students will seize this opportunity, as the example of England shows.
In 2014, England became the first country in the world to make computer programming compulsory throughout the school curriculum.
But a report released earlier this year found that the number of students who obtained a qualification in a computer subject subsequently declined.
The findings prompted warnings that the UK could face a ‘catastrophic’ digital skills gap, which could hamper its ability to compete in a technology-intensive global economy.
What today’s report – and the example of England – demonstrates is that expanding access to computer education is an important step, but it is not enough alone to give developed economies the labor force they need.