WIP Hadi Partovi (1)

The case for making computer science a part of every K-12 curriculum

A conversation with Hadi Partovi, founder and CEO, Code.org

In this episode of Work in Progress, Code.org founder and CEO Hadi Partovi and I discuss a call to action aimed at the nation’s governors, asking them to make computer science part of the basic K-12 curriculum in every U.S. school.

Right now, the United States has over 700-thousand open computing jobs, but only 80-thousand computer science majors graduating from college each year.

In high school, only 5% of students study computer science – a small percentage due to the fact that most K-12 schools in the country don’t even offer CS classes.

In an effort to change that, more than 500 business leaders, educators, and nonprofits released a letter today (July 12) calling on state governors and education leaders to make computer science a standard part of the K-12 curriculum in every school in every state.

The initiative brings together a broad spectrum of groups and individuals, including the CEOs and founders of such companies as Microsoft, Amazon, American Express, Walgreens, and Cognizant, and education organizations including the American Federation of Teachers.

Leading this call to action – timed to coincide with the final day of the National Governors Association Summer Meeting in Portland, Maine – is the nonprofit Code.org.

‘There is no company today that doesn’t have significant technology needs.’

“We’re so excited to know that Bill Gates, or Jeff Bezos, or Mark Zuckerberg, or Satya Nadella, or Tim Cook are getting behind a call for computer science in schools, but nobody is shocked that they would do that,” says Hadi Partovi, founder and CEO of Code.org. “When the largest players in banking, in air travel, in coffee, in footwear – when you have Nike and Hasbro and UPS – these are the companies you don’t expect.”

But, as Partovi points out, there is no company that doesn’t have significant technology needs today.

“If they don’t need coders, they need data scientists. If they don’t need data scientists, they need cyber security. You can’t find a large employer that doesn’t need either a computer programmer for their website or somebody, a data scientist, just to look at their customer data or a cybersecurity expert to prevent their emails from getting hacked.

“For a long time, everybody has known technology as the future. After the pandemic, people realize technology is the now. This is not some future need. All of these companies are feeling imminent pain that our education system isn’t providing enough people for them to get these opportunities.”

In February, Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson – the current chairman of the NGA – said that he was going to make a drive for governors to make a joint commitment for computer science. Partovi says he knew that Hutchinson was aiming for an announcement during the the NGA Summer Meeting. “I figured let’s make a parallel drive to get CEOs and business leaders to say this is important. And to then use the voice of those business leaders to encourage governors to get behind this.”

‘Computer science provides an essential foundation – not only for careers in technology, but for every career in today’s world.’

The letter reads, in part:

To the Governors and Education Leaders of the United States of America:

The undersigned leaders have joined forces to deliver a bipartisan message about opportunity and the American Dream. We call on you to update the K-12 curriculum in each state, for every student in every school to have the opportunity to learn computer science.

This has broad support among parents, students, teachers, and employers. Why? Because computer science provides an essential foundation – not only for careers in technology, but for every career in today’s world. Studies now show that students who learn computer science outperform in school, university, and beyond.

At a time when every industry is impacted by digital technology, our schools should teach every student how technology works, to learn to be creators, not just consumers. Instead, this basic skill is taught only to the lucky few, leaving most students behind, especially young women and students of color.

The United States leads the world in technology, yet only 5% of our high school students study computer science. How is this acceptable? We invented the personal computer, the internet, and the smartphone. It is our responsibility to prepare the next generation for the new American Dream. 

Tech and Digital Skills are Top Priority for Parents with K-12 Students

Partovi and the other signers of the letter say that digital skills and technology are high on the list of “wants” from parents for their children in today’s tech-heavy world.

“If you ask parents, it’s the first thing they give as the priority of what they want their kids to learn after reading, writing, and basic math. And so our school system needs to figure out how to incorporate computer science as a foundational thing, not just for the kids who want to work at tech companies. If you want to become a nurse or a farmer or a lawyer, all of these jobs are increasingly technical.”

So what happens next? Partovi is not certain how the state governors and educators will respond, but he is optimistic.

“I’m really excited to see what happens because I know that Governor Hutchinson and his staff and the NGA staff have been collecting commitments from governors. And I’m hoping that they’ll unveil them later this week.”

You can listen to the full conversation here or download Work in Progress wherever you get your podcasts.

WorkingNation will update this story with any developments as they become available.

Episode 236: Hadi Partovi, Code.org founder & CEO
Host & Executive Producer: Ramona Schindelheim, Editor-in-Chief, WorkingNation
Producer: Larry Buhl
Executive Producers: Joan Lynch and Melissa Panzer
Theme Music: Composed by Lee Rosevere and licensed under CC by 4.0
Download the transcript for this podcast here.
You can check out all the other podcasts at this link: Work in Progress podcasts

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