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Despite Focus on STEM Education, Computer Science Instruction Still Lacking

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Wednesday, February 19, 2014 at 5:01 PM

Laptop programs like this one in Beachwood improve kids' computer skills, but experts say hardly teach kids any computer science.

Laptop programs like this one in Beachwood improve kids' computer skills, but experts say hardly teach kids any computer science.

By now, most Ohio schools have gotten the memo that increasing the focus on science, technology, engineering and math, a.k.a. STEM subjects, will help prepare students for the jobs of the future.

Data from the US Department of Commerce show nationwide, jobs in the STEM fields are slated to grow 17 percent from 2008 to 2018, compared to 9.8 percent for all other fields.

And in Ohio, computer and math related jobs are projected to grow 18 percent from 2010 to 2020, the highest projected growth behind healthcare.

But as NPR recently reported, one course has yet to increase in popularity at many schools—computer science.

While many schools teach kids how to type and navigate the internet, few focus directly on teaching students the fundamentals of how to program computers, design software, or build the hardware.

Nationwide, it’s hard to tell exactly how many schools offer computer science classes.  Experts point to data that show the number of students who take the Advanced Placement test in computer science.

In Ohio, six percent of students, or 697 total, took the exam last year.  That's the highest number in 15 years.

But Chris Stephenson, executive director with the Computer Science Teachers Association, says that’s still not enough.

“There’s been very little support of computer science education at the K-12 level,” Stephenson says.

Nigamanth Sridhar can attest to that. He's an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Cleveland State University and is working on a project to train more Ohio teachers to teach computer science.

"In the broader context of STEM, there's a lot of political backing toward STEM in the state, but there’s virtually none when it comes to computer science," he says.

In Ohio, a computer science class is considered an elective and does not fulfill a math or science requirement for graduation. And the new Common Core standards that Ohio adopted do not explicitly include computer science, although they do incorporate some of its basic concepts like modeling and simulation.

That barely prepares students for the volume of systems analyst and computer programmer jobs available in the next several years, Chris Stephenson says.

“We have to be better at deciding what jobs our kids need to be prepared for,” Stephenson says.

“We see what happens when communities or generations are trained for jobs that then cease to exist,” she says, pointing to declines in the manufacturing and auto industries in places like Detroit.

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