Maria, the woman sitting next to me on my flight from New York to Austin, is playing with her daughter, Monica, on her lap. The baby holds her smartphone, clicking, and Maria asks what I’m working on as she sees me typing obsessively on my laptop.
I tell her about what I do and how my company addresses society’s need to educate citizens for millions of unfilled jobs — in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) jobs, as well as jobs in computing.
I tell her that over 135,000 school leaders need to train four million teachers quickly due to 100 million parents’ desire to educate children on this new bundle of literacies.
She smiles. “Oh really. I had no clue there’s such a thing. Can you really mandate computer science in all classrooms in this country? Are teachers going to agree?” she wondered, adding, “So my daughter needs a whole new type of education, right?!”
It happens to me a lot these days — in random conversations at airports, schools, supermarkets, elevators, cocktail parties, yoga studios, Twitter and Facebook walls, as well as at my family’s and friends’ gatherings.
Why? Because slowly, everyone is realizing that our world is changing and in order to develop socially-minded global citizens, our kids need a new type of education.
Our kids need an education system that practices creative problem-solving, design thinking, analytical thinking, innovative teamwork, interpersonal intelligence and a variety of entrepreneurial skills to succeed in life – both personally and professionally.
These new skills and knowledge are the new fundamental requisites for K-12 studies, college studies, 21st-century jobs and ensuring lifelong earning in the digital innovation economy.
Our education system must swiftly adapt to this new reality. We must reimagine schools’ goals and their learning culture, and invent new approaches for learning both new and traditional subjects and topics.
The traditional definition of literacy only includes reading and writing. But as our economy and society become ever more grounded in technology, that definition must change.
In our 21st-century digital economy, literacy is much more than a mastery of the English language. It requires fluency in computer science. As the new literacy of our time, computer science can no longer be treated as an extracurricular or elective course. It must be mandatory for all students, and woven into the regular curriculum in schools across the country.
It’s no secret that the number of computing jobs continues to grow across every industry, yet there is a shortage of individuals with the skills needed to fill them. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 1 million jobs in computing will go unfilled by 2020. This means that without computer science education, we are not prepared for the economic needs of our future. It also means that students equipped with computer science skills will have the opportunity to thrive in our global innovation economy.
I have said it before, CSEd is a new human right that should be accessible to all students, regardless of race, gender or socioeconomic status, and universal access inevitably closes the digital divide. Failing to implement a strong, mandatory CSEd curriculum in our nation’s K-12 schools is an egregious act of social injustice, blocking students from an entire world of opportunity.
Mandating computer science education may seem daunting, as Maria next to me said. “It is a huge task to get these new subjects taught in all schools in my town in a good way, so how about the whole state or the whole nation; how long will it take to get it done?” she asked. My response was quite simple: “It really comes down to leadership in policy and curriculum – and the commitment of lawmakers and school administrators to implement resources and training – and we can get the job done. All citizens, in all positions, should fight for it – parents included – and it will happen.”
I told Maria about Chavez High School in Houston ISD, where Globaloria has been working to ensure all 1,650 freshmen and sophomores take computer programming, software engineering, video game design and coding classes.
Implementing programs like this does not require hiring a fleet of computer scientists – teachers can learn alongside their students, making it a fun learning experience for everyone.
In Beeville ISD, a rural district near Corpus Christi, a visionary superintendent, Dr. Mark Puig, is leading the way in implementing CSEd across his six campuses starting at preK and going through 12th grade. “I have no time to lose,” he told me. “I want all my 250 teachers to be trained to do whatever they can to ensure that all my 3,500 students in this small town of 13,000 have a chance to get a job in the global economy. They are the future of this community, my state, this country. Even agriculture and small-town business require technology innovation these days.”
Houston principal Rene Sanchez and Beeville superintendent Marc Puig know that CSEd not only provides students with the skills needed to achieve academic and professional success, it also closes the digital divides across socioeconomic backgrounds, bringing new opportunities to their underserved communities – urban or rural.
The breakdown of computer scientists in the United States is shocking: only 6 percent are African-Americans and 5 percent are Hispanics. These are the jobs that our current and future economy relies on. By shutting low-income students out of CSEd, we are only continuing to shut them out of the jobs of our future.
Preparing students for the jobs of tomorrow, the ones that may not even exist yet, requires 2-year-old Monica to think differently, innovate constantly, and always be creative, collaborative, entrepreneurial and analytical in her learning.
Our schools must provide Monica and and her peers with new educational experiences to meet those standards. We must challenge our students and encourage them to think differently across all subjects and all grades —starting young.
Idit Harel is the CEO of Globaloria.