Story by Deb Seminary, contributing writer
Most of us grew up knowing the ‘3 Rs’ were the foundations of learning in our schools. Reading, writing, and arithmetic are still important, but why not make those foundations stronger with computer science?
The North Dakota Department of Public Instruction (NDDPI) & Cognia Virtual Continuous Improvement Conference, held September 21 and 22, included a keynote and panel that talked about the value of including computer science and cybersecurity in K-12 curriculum across the state.
“Computer science is foundational,” said North Dakota State Superintendent Kirsten Baesler. “We want students to know how it works in their every-day life – in an app, on social media. As soon as young students start to learn, they should learn computer science. The world is no longer rewarding young people for what they know, just what they do with what they know.”
In North Dakota, for every computer science graduate, there are five open jobs. Only 75 of North Dakota’s 194 high schools offer computer science, a number that has doubled in the last four years, thanks in part to EduTech. EduTech is a division of North Dakota’s Information Technology Department (NDIT) which provides information technology services and education technology professional development to K-12 educators in North Dakota.
“EduTech recently trained 500 educators across the state on how to teach computer science,” said Shawn Riley, NDIT’s Chief Information Officer. “We still have 2,500 (teachers) that need to get credentialed.”
“The state that rushes to educate its students will give them access to the highest-paying, fastest-growing jobs in the country,” said Hadi Partovi, morning keynote. “North Dakota’s picture has improved and can do better.”
Partovi, born in Tehran, Iran, taught himself to code at home during the Iran-Iraq war. After immigrating to the U.S., he spent summers working as a software engineer to help pay his way through high school and college. In 2013, Hadi and his twin brother, Ali, launched the education nonprofit, Code.org, creating the most broadly-used curriculum platform for K-12 computer science in the U.S.
“The vast majority (70 percent) of teachers believe computer science should be taught to students,” explained Partovi. “Computer science nurtures logical thinking and promotes creativity. Children become better learners and better thinkers.”
Parents also believe their children should learn about computer science, particularly cybersecurity.
“Parents know how dangerous the internet is,” said Partovi. “They expect their children to be educated. Part of computer science is teaching cybersecurity and teaching proper digital and social hygiene – how to keep a computer clean, what is fake news, etc.”
Baesler agreed, referencing a recent meeting.
“We have students of all ages in our student cabinet, from third grade to a college freshman,” she explained. “During one of our meetings, they were talking about computer science, algorithms, and cybersecurity and they all agreed it should be required in school. They had a very robust discussion, across all of the age levels. They realize how they are manipulated online. What better way to make them safe and help them learn what is happening?”
Studies show that students who have a foundational knowledge of computer science tend to perform higher in the areas of reading, writing, math, and science and they are more likely to enroll in college.
Students rank computer science their favorite class behind only dance, music, and art. Computer science gets kids motivated to learn and is more engaging. It unlocks their natural creativity. Students are excited to learn more – they want to learn more.
Computer science is not only about coding and word processing. Almost every job requires some computer knowledge, and technology will continue to impact our workforce.
“Students today will have to be constant, continuous learners,” said Riley.
“Forty-seven percent of North Dakota schools are teaching computer science in a structured way,” said Baesler. “We need to reach a point where they all are. And the key is to start early. Kids’ perceptions and desire for careers are based on what their experiences are.”
Luckily, North Dakota is well positioned to become a national leader in getting students educated in computer science. Through the PK20W Initiative, it is the first state to have computer science and cybersecurity standards for curriculum. The Center for Distance Education gives access to education across the state, no matter where a student is located. North Dakota’s broadband is the envy of rural states across the country and funding is not an issue.
North Dakota leaders in the public and private sector are working hard to ensure the infrastructure is available to prepare a generation of young people to meet the computer science and cybersecurity needs of tomorrow. The hope is that educators and school leaders will see the value of including this curriculum in every district across our state in the very near future.